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.