Review of ‘Witness for the Prosecution’: “Ad-d valorem”

Agatha Christie’s worldly acclaimed play has returned to the West End in a new reimagined version taking the live experience to a whole next level. Guillermo Názara testifies after his arresting involvement at the London County Hall, where the trial took place on a alledgedly hianous muderer – but also on his abilities to solve the mystery.

I seek truth over a lie; I seek justice over injustice; I seek righteousness over the rewards of evildoers. That, if you are able to tell which is which. Or to do it on time… It’s no surprise that when you go see, read or watch an Agatha Christie work, you’re in for a long display of tricks, twists and deception. Anything she created was carefully designed to shrewdly tamper with your mind – luring you into a false path of assumptions, and throwing you off a cliff of revelations when the shocking conclusion came around. But although her style has been well patented (and expected) over the course of her incredibly prolific career, her merits seem to keep piling up even after her death – no ouija board required this time.

Witness for the Prosecution isn’t by far new material – its previous worldwide success, already as a play in its origins and later the emblematic Billy Wilder film, can speak for that matter. Yet, this new adaptation has managed to stand out in London’s entertainment list this season (and probably, or hopefully, a few more of them to come). Does this mean that the West End is sadly mirroring Hollywood re their desperate crave for remakes due to a lack of ideas? Not at all – I pray. But as immersive shows keep growing in popularity and offer in theatreland, so are the twirls on this genre. And here we have one prepared to make your own head spin.

Performed in an actual courtroom at the iconic (and effusively repurposed) London County Hall, the chills and thrills every good mystery tale must feature are already in position before the play has started, thanks to the impressive setting you’re invited to be a part of. Seated in genuine magistrate chairs (be careful, you never know the intentions your colleagues may have), the hyper realistic atmosphere honours the title by giving you the impression of truly being a witness, enhanced by a very clever use of the entire stage space and the undoubtfully resilient commitment of its company. Authenticity unrolls before your eyes in all its glory but also darkness, yet it’s sublimed and taken to some other level of passions and emotions in a way that only the theatre can do. I’ve said it before and I will repeat it as much as necessary – when you exploit the strenghts of your media, flaws are less likely to arise.

Gavel down and music in as the eerie prologue sets the mood and tone of the dark unmerciful ride we are about to embark on. There’s no turning back from that moment on, as the fast pace and intoxicating intensity take you into their grips and strap you down until the very end. Meanwhile, a remarkable drama, where both plot and characters are brilliantly executed, is set in motion and unfolded around the whole city. How is that? Because the courtroom is not the only place for this story to develop. And even though its opulent distinctive structure remains uncovered during the whole performance, that’s no obstacle for anyone to travel either to a refined lawyer’s offices or the dodgy gloomy docks of 1950s East London. Just a few props, epic coreographed transitions, clever lighting and encompassing sound design (the intricacy and attention to detail of the latter worthy of a mention of its own) are more than enough to emulate all of its diverse environments, in one of the strongest efforts I’ve seen lately.

Witness for the Prosecution Taken on 29th March 2022, London

But what about the defendants, you may ask? Well, let me assure that the grounds of the accusation are sound and the evidence, quite clear. And so, it’s only fair to declare that everyone brought into court was absolutely magnificent. From the apparently naïve and extremely sympathetic Leonard Vole (outstandingly played by Joshua Glenister) to the smallest, almost non-speaking parts of the wandering warders (albeit still a crucial element to the success of the show’s vibe), the implication of the whole cast is beyond the highest standards. Natural, appealing, seamless and electrifying. Those are traits that can hardly be put together, let alone shared by an entire company. However, this is pretty much the case. Everything you’re watching can look so genuine, it may unravel some strong feelings within – some of them merciful, but some others filled with hate and despise.

Final verdict is to be given (let’s be honest, you were expecting a few legal puns in this post), but the sentece has not taken this jury to any deadlocked state (alright, I’ll stop). Truth is that it’s quite easy to review a play when the source material is good and its adaptation, even better. Because that’s what this version of Christie’s is all about: quality entertainment in all its sides, brought out by a creative and acting team so in tandem and so devoted, they have proven what the word “respect” for this profession and industry actually means. After all, when a piece suitable for the general public meets the complexity of fine performing arts, there’s only one possible result: an experience not to miss out on.

5/5 stars.

Witness for the Prosecution plays at the London County Hall from Tuesday to Sunday. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Názara

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