December 17, 2017

Pick up your jury summons now – Witness for the Prosecution, Leeds Civic Hall

In reality, most regular folk would baulk at the idea of sitting on a jury. The missed days of work, all the dull and monotonous legality, the unknown time frames of the trial at hand. However, as the case of Leonard Vole progresses in Agatha Christie’s thrilling 1953 courtroom drama, the prospect of serving suddenly seems incredibly attractive. Indeed, in Theatre Mill’s radical, site-specific production, which unfolds in the majestic Leeds Civic Hall, it is difficult to imagine a more rich and exciting evening in the theatre.

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The stunning location provides the ideal setting against which high drama, gentle humour, and explosive revelation sit side by side. Samuel Wood directs with such clarity, fluidity, and flair that one never switches off for a second. Inventive staging and a clutch of excellent performances are topped off beautifully with carefully choreographed scene changes that only add to the narrative; indeed, there are little touches – such as the entire audience standing on the entry of the judge – which only enforce the authenticity and tension of the piece. Vole himself, played by Niall Costigan with a nervy, puppyish charm, is accused of murdering an affluent old lady who he befriended. Not only is he in dire straits financially but to make matters worse, there is no hard proof as to his whereabouts on the evening in question. Cue Romaine Vole, his icy and enigmatic German wife, who appears to be his only alibi.

Of course, Christie’s plot – to my mind, the finest she ever wrote – twists and turns admirably, throwing surprise after surprise, and reveals a clever, sharp writer at the height of her powers. But any production rises or falls on its cast; here a tight ensemble clearly at the top of their game. Light relief comes in the guise of Lowenna Melrose’s scatty maid, Pam Hilton’s hilariously sour-faced Scottish housekeeper, and Tom Jackson’s bumbling forensics expert, and there is a peach of a performance from Chris Wilkinson as the constantly puzzled Judge Wainwright, but always with a playful twinkle in his eye.

There are some stand-out performances that drive the evening: Clive Moore’s whirlwind prosecuting Q.C, an oily and irritating chancer, who never plays by the rules; the magnificent Adam Elms and Gordon Kane as Vole’s increasingly exasperated defence team, their natural comic timing, character detail and interplay a sheer delight to watch; and of course, the imposing and watchable Rachel Logan as the scheming Romaine, moving effortlessly from cool deviousness to a tragic portrait of a woman motivated by love.

Pick up your jury summons now. This is an outstanding theatrical experience that should not be missed. One of the finest productions I have seen in years. And I’m laying down the law on that one.

***** – DO NOT MISS.

Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie.

Produced by Theatre Mill and RJS Productions.
At: Leeds Civic Hall.
Director: Samuel Wood.
Cast: Gordon Kane, Rachel Logan, Niall Costigan, Adam Elms, Clive Moore.

Continues until 30th August 2015 – tickets available from Leeds Grand Theatre.

 

Reviewed by Alex Hardy

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