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Gill Jenks in The Stables Theatre’s production of Witness for the Prosecution (Photo: Peter Mould)

Agatha Christie at the Stables Theatre delights

The nation is being ripped apart by Brexit, and US missiles rain down on Syria, threatening global conflict, but somewhere in this country there’ll always be someone – somewhere – putting on a production of an Agatha Christie whodunnit. Simple escapism in a traditional English setting has been delighting audiences in book form, on stage, and on film and TV for nearly a century. The team at the Stables took on Witness for the Prosecution, and Toby Sargent went along on the first night to review it for HOT.

The courtroom drama exerts a fascination for audiences. There’s a strong story being told – often with juicy or grisly details woven in – that is set out in neat chunks with interesting ‘characters’ for us to believe, or otherwise. And, best of all, an uncertain conclusion with the potential for a twist in the tail.

Courtroom

The trouble, of course, for the theatre director and actors alike, is that the courtroom itself is the most rigid of sets. Characters come into the witness box, say their piece and disappear, while the defendant, the judge, jurors and court officials have to remain pretty much stationary throughout.

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‘Barnstorming performance’ from Pauline McLaughlin as the defendant’s mysterious wife (Photo: Peter Mould)

On the screen, the director can cut between the steady progress in the courtroom and any number of other times and places to fill in the gaps, create a back-story and generally create ‘action.’ On stage the director’s task is much harder. Director Roger Saxton-Howes’s treatment of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution at the Stables was excellent: a fine example of how to move things along, create suspense, and flick between comedy, morality and the macabre, without getting bogged down too much by courtroom ‘procedure.’

Updated

The play itself started life as a short story, published in the 1920s, becoming a drama some 30 years later. For this performance it has been updated to the 1980s, although I couldn’t quite see to what purpose.

WFP defendant

Defendant Leonard Vole, excellently played by Alan Haynes, comes under pressure from the prosecution (Pic: Peter Mould)

The plot centres on a rather simple fellow, Leonard Vole – beautifully captured by Alan Haynes – who finds himself accused of murdering a wealthy old lady. Motive? He had, it appears, ingratiated himself into her affections to the point where he had become the main beneficiary in her will. Throw in a gloriously improbable wife of the accused – a barnstorming performance from Pauline McLaughlin – and some strong character acting by Mary Campbell as the disgruntled housekeeper, Bryan Seller as the beady-eyed judge and Gill Jenks as the icily-efficient defence barrister, and you have the ingredients for a very watchable play.

I’ll say no more about the plot but, as usual with Agatha Christie, there’s a neat twist at the end which sends the audience off with a spring in their step, chattering about what they’ve just seen.

Full-house audience

I saw it on the first night and there were one or two fluffed lines, but that will have been ironed out by now, and the full-house audience when I was there were certainly delighted with what they saw. So get a ticket while there are still some left. A Stables evening is always huge fun, with preposterously inexpensive tickets and bar prices, and an overall welcoming air that pretty much guarantees a great night out.

Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution is on at the Stables Theatre until Saturday 15 April. Box office 01424 423221.

Posted 18:17 Sunday, Apr 9, 2017 In: Performance

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