Witness for the Prosecution has just announced an extension to March 2020, and having seen it you can tell why. The grip of this taught drama is hugely enhanced by the setting in the main council chamber of the County Hall building on London’s Southbank. Even the front of house staff are dressed as court ushers. Although not a courtroom, this stunning and imposing space has gravitas and ambience in spades. The play is not entirely set in a court but those scenes that are become truly engrossing to the point that one’s disbelief is suspended fully and willingly. For other scenes – for example in lawyers’ offices or a dark street – props are brought on by company members in neatly choreographed moves. This is necessary because there are no wings or flies so it’s quite a walk to the stage area from the various entrances, but the necessity results in an inventive and effective solution.
Making his West End stage debut in the leading role of the accused is Daniel Solbe as Leonard Vole. He has exactly the right mix of charm, insecurity, naivety and good looks for the part. And it’s essential he does for reasons which will become apparent if you go, but which I’m not about to give away here! His defence barrister, Sir Wilfrid Roberts QC, is suavely played with striking theatricality by Jasper Britton. He’s hugely credible in the part and really owns the room – both the fictional courtroom and the actual playing space. Batting against him is Mr Myers QC, played ferociously by William Chubb. The duel between these two lawyers becomes the centre of the play and they wheel around the stage in fast-paced and exciting scenes, pouncing on each other whenever even a pause for breath is threatened.
As Vole’s wife Romaine, the holder of his alibi, Emma Rigby is excellent. She looks and sounds the part and embraces the ambiguity of the role entirely. Of the other witnesses Joanne Brookes as the victim’s housekeeper Mrs Mackenzie has a great time on the witness stand, delightfully (for us) unwittingly digging her own holes with relish.
There is an undercurrent of outdated attitudes which jar with a contemporary audience. Women make tea and fall for charm and flattery. ‘Foreigners’ are not to be trusted on any account. But it is a period piece and these views are to be expected as a result. And in the end the plot itself in some ways undercuts them.
Courtroom dramas are always entertaining, as real-life courtroom proceedings bring their own inherent theatricality to the play, only serving to enhance the tensions. By combining that with a unique venue, Witness for the Prosecution successfully manages to punch above its weight and deliver an exciting and engrossing entertainment.
Sue in the Stalls attended courtesy of London Box Office.
Witness for the Prosecution is currently booking until March 2020.