Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

“Witness for the Prosecution” at County Hall

The selling point for Lucy Bailey’s production of this much-adapted Agatha Christie short story is its location. The former Greater London Council building is an art deco gem and its debating chamber, in which the audience take their seats, magnificent. Gaining access is well worth the effort. Seeing a show at the same time isn’t a bad idea.

Bailey uses the setting – which mostly serves as a courtroom – judiciously. With atmosphere aplenty, this is an exciting show. Excellent lighting design from Chris Davey has a big role to play. The show is hard work on the cast, in such a big space, there’s a lot of running around. But the location really is perfect. Oh, and it’s comfy too.

Martin Turner

The Chamber is cavernous. But matching performances to its scale doesn’t make for great results. Emer McDaid’s Dietrich inspired villain, Romaine, is frankly hammy and Johnathan Firth’s defence barrister doesn’t come across as sharp enough. Thankfully, our hero, the accused Leonard Vole, played by Joe McNamara, is appealing. And proceedings are marshalled nicely by Martin Turner’s judge. The latter manages to inject a sense of drama that is generally lacking.

As mystery stories go, Witness for the Prosecution has a great twist; it’s entertaining, if not Christie’s best. But on stage the climax is clumsy. Bailey believes we cannot take Christie seriously. We all like to laugh at quaint period details, but there’s an excess of comedy here. Dealing with toffs and foreigners becomes just too jolly. And there’s too big a conflict with efforts to highlight that the death penalty is an option for judge and jury.

Where Bailey and her cast excel, is to make sure that the story and the action are clear. The diction is perfect, maybe with a clever eye on tourists who have English as a second language? In short, this is a safe show that nearly all will enjoy. With a good story and a great location, the final verdict must be positive. See it… but only if you’ve seen The Mousetrap first.


Photos by Idil-Sukan and Ellie Kurttz

“The Mousetrap” at the St Martin’s Theatre

It feels appropriate that the first big show to reopen after lockdown is the West End’s longest running. After a hiatus in its record-breaking 68-year run, Agatha Christie’s whodunit is back in fine form and with a new idea – two casts are taking turns to perform the show. I enjoyed it so much that I might see both.

The Mousetrap is one show where any plot spoiler would be unforgiveable… more on that later. And the murder mystery’s success speaks for itself – the story is excellent. But it should be stressed that the new cast I saw are superb. Under Ian Talbot’s direction, Cassidy Janson and Danny Mac take the leads as the Ralstons, steering the action and adding to the drama. Meanwhile visitors at the suitably isolated Monkswell Manor are impeccably performed by Alexander Wolfe, Susan Penhaligon, Derek Griffiths, Lizzie Muncey, David Rintoul and Paul Hilliar. 

We are used to enjoying Christie adaptations, but her biggest hit reminds us what a solid playwright she could be. We know the plotting is unparalleled and accept the characterisation falls short. But it is a pleasant surprise to be reminded that the show is, quite simply, perfect light entertainment.

The Mousetrap knows it is funny. Although maybe not written to be giggled over in quite the way a modern audience can do, there is plenty of wit here. Christie and the cast play with the stock characters setting up our suspicions. And staging the manor house genre is neatly served by the all the comings and goings. Expectations are masterfully played with – consider the joke that a post-war lack of servants means there isn’t a butler in sight.

Meanwhile, characters remind us we can take The Mousetrap seriously – should we wish. Indeed, the insistence that we could do so is the one thing that slows the show down after the interval. Glimpses into a painful motive for murder carry weight and are unveiled with care. And the final revelation still provides a shock, even if it isn’t one of Christie’s best.

Playing with its audience in a manner that might strike you as surprisingly knowing, it’s worth remembering that back in 1952 Christie and her genre were firmly established. Theatre goers then and now know the rules of this game and love it. The final address to the audience – after the curtain – calls for us all to keep the secret of the play. The confirmation of complicity with an audience is always welcome and, after such a long break, moving. It’s my favourite part of the show!