Friday, 14 June 2019

Witness for the Prosecution at County Hall

Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution began life as a short story called "Traitor's Hands", written very early in her career (though, for me, it remains the best short story she ever wrote). She adapted it for the stage in 1953, adding an additional plot twist, and an excellent film version followed, directed by the great Billy Wilder and starring Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, and Tyrone Power, four years later. There was a TV version a couple of years ago, while the stage play returned to London's County Hall with great success back in 2017, and it's still going strong.

I was glad to receive an invitation to a Gala performance of the play, held last night, to celebrate the new cast. Because I was down in London for a variety of other events, including a Detection Club dinner (nicely reported by Moira Redmond here) and the annual lunch for past Chairs of the Crime Writers' Association, I was able to accept, and I'm really glad I did. Having been lucky enough to be invited to stay at Agatha's old home in Devon, Greenway, last week, the chance to see the play was a real bonus.

The unique feature of Lucy Bailey's production is the setting - the former debating chamber of the Greater London Council, a magnificent space, and ideally suited for transformation into the Old Bailey. The large cast doesn't contain any major household names, and is none the worse for that. I thought the performances were of a consistently high standard; the actors in the lead roles, Simon Dutton as the defence QC, Carolin Stoltz as Romaine, and Lewis Cope as Leonard, were very good, while the other cast members also performed with conviction. This is a play where the production needs to be slick and fast-paced - and it was. Of course my enthusiasm for Christie is no secret, but I was accompanied by my son, a barrister, who wasn't familiar with the play, and he was impressed. A private party held after the show completed a memorable evening.

I've watched a number of Christie plays over the years, and I've mentioned one or two of them on this blog. For me, the sheer cleverness of the plot of Witness for the Prosecution means that it's my favourite - yes, ahead of The Mousetrap.

I talked in The Golden Age of Murder about Christie's preoccupation with the question of how to do justice, an aspect of her work that was neglected for many years. This play is a very good example of her almost obsessive interest in a subject which is as relevant today as when the original story was first written. 


Mike Storey said...

"... Christie's preoccupation with the question of how to do justice [is] an aspect of her work that was neglected for many years."
And still is. I hate it when publishers of the cosy mystery genre (usually spelt cozy as it had its roots in the USA) use the 'if you like Agatha Christie, you'll LOVE Penny Spending's utterly addictive new cozy Welsh village mysteries featuring mobile hairdresser and sheep-shearer Tess the Tress.' I don't mean to sneer at the genre itself - it has some skilled authors whom I enjoy - but there is nothing cozy about Dame Agatha or Poirot or Miss Marple. They share a steely morality, a strong sense that evil is real and must be punished. But of course it never is - it is only the evil-doer whom human justice can condemn to the gallows, a sentence irretrievable if carried out. Something Lord Peter Wimsey was always hideously aware of on the morning of an execution.

Clothes In Books said...

Lovely to see you last week, and this sounds like a perfect addition to your trip.

Martin Edwards said...

Mike, that's a very good point. Thank you.

Martin Edwards said...

Moira, yes, grand to see you again, and it won't be long until the next time!