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Stuart King

Review: WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION at County Hall

Witness for the Prosecution As a youngster, I once experienced the sheer delight of catching a rare television screening of Charles Laughton‘s turn as Sir Wilfred Robarts - the wily, over-confident defence barrister - in Billy Wilder’s definitive 1958 film version.

Performed within the hallowed debating chamber set at the heart of County Hall on the Southbank, this site specific version of Agatha Christie’s famous courtroom drama has a lot going for it - not least, the plush seats from which the audience get to experience the spectacle. But the on-stage efforts struggle to match the authenticity and genuine drama of the extraordinary environment.

The story centres around the murder of a wealthy middle-aged woman and the earnest young man (Leonard Vole played by Daniel Solbe) who is accused of the crime. When he is shockingly further implicated by the wife he adores (Emma Rigby completely at sea in the role played originally by Marlene Dietrich), his defence begins to unravel. But will Sir Wilfred unearth the truth and save him from the gallows? Jasper Britton deploys flailing arms and unsubtle bursts of exuberance in place of Laughton’s wily winks and bumptious charm and as a consequence, barely scratches the surface of this intriguing character.

A good resident director would rein-in the worst excesses of provincial theatre acting displayed among the supporting cast, but it has been left to the likes of Ewan Stewart as Mr Mayhew and Christopher Ravenscroft as Justice Wainwright to eschew the obvious and demonstrate that less is often more - even in a large space. But who am I kidding? This is Agatha Christie after all, where ridiculous moustaches, unlikely villains and red herrings abound. Go for the location and wander the marble-clad, former corridors of power during the interval.

Witness for The Prosecution tickets