YOU wouldn’t call Agatha Christie an obvious feminist, but in Witness for the Prosecution, which she considered her best play, she does a great job puncturing the pompous superiority of her principal male characters.
It’s classic Christie – more twists and turns than an Alpine mountain pass. It’s not so much red herrings as unpredictable shifts of our perception, leaving the audience unsure of the truth until the climactic final minutes.
It requires four powerful and convincing central performances, and it gets them from Amateur Players, in their first inside play at their Studio Theatre home since the start of the pandemic.
You have to be bowled over by the charisma and intellect of the great defence barrister, Sir Wilfred Roberts QC (APS newcomer Alan Morris making a great impression on his debut).
You have to be thoroughly irritated but also secretly charmed by the guile of prosecutor Myers QC (the ever elegant and reliable Patrick Knox).
You have to believe in the innocence of Leonard Vole, charged with the murder of an elderly woman whom he befriended after rescuing her from a near miss on a busy road. (Cameron Thrower, last seen as Ayckbourn’s Norman in Table Manners, shows his remarkable versatility as the naive and hapless Leonard).
And you have to be convinced that Romain, Leonard’s German wife, (a brilliant, pitch-perfect performance by Kate Kirkpatrick) is the scheming wicked FOREIGN femme fatale that Sir Wilfred and solicitor Mayhew (another solid performance from Roger Chadbourne) believe her to be.
What is fascinating is the way this play, nearly 70 years old, still works on every level. There are a few jarring notes – the murdered Miss French, in her mid-50s, would not be described as “an old woman” today, and there is a blatant and nasty jingoism in the way the jury is expected to view Romain.
But the central questions – which is the stronger motivation, money or love, what is truth and where is the real justice – remain as pertinent in 2021 as when they were first asked in 1953.
Director John Crabtree keeps the pacing just right and the tension high. It’s a terrific production of a play that still has the audience guessing, right to the final curtain.
Pictured are Kate Kirkpatrick as Romain, Cameron Thrower as Leonard and Alan Morris as Sir Wilfred.