Witness for the Prosecution - September 2019

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Review Author: Liz Hume-Dawson 

This was my first time at the Brindley Theatre Runcorn and very impressive it is too.

Centenary Theatre Company’s production of Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie - a play in three acts. Agatha Christie remains one of the most translated authors today with a colourful life and a rocky start having no less than six works rejected before going to print: but in the end her genius shone through and she soon established herself as one of the most successful whodunnit authors.

Joe Clarke directs this play, his notes state that he was meticulous with characterisation, transitions of exits and entrances, pace and tension - a bold statement for any director to make. I think you can see a definite craft at work and cohesiveness about the whole story. Pace and tension were definitely abundant and the humour and wit was cleverly inserted. This is a long play and I think it kept pace most of the way. To nit-pick I did think the scene outside the courtroom could have been done in front of tabs to save time for re-setting the courtroom again. (just needed to be careful in the Act 1 that some cast members do not look out into the audience when talking to someone stood next to them).  I liked the idea of using us the audience as the jury breaking the fourth wall, it really worked including using an audience member as the foreman.

The black box set had enough staging to give the right flavour of the time and a truck of which both sides were used, one for the office scene and then the courtroom. Lighting was appropriate to enhance the staging and set the atmosphere and mood – all by Joe Clarke.

The costumes overall looked good, although with a few I wasn’t sure if they were right for the era and I did think the Court Stenographer should have had a gown. A few of the ladies’ hair styles also maybe not quite of the time and looked too modern day.

The well-balanced cast had a good dynamic resulting in an overall high standard.

Gill Bourke playing the Court Stenographer never said a word, a good acting class in saying nothing and doing everything, totally believable and totally in it. I actually found myself watching her and her thoughtful reactions to the showy courtroom speeches.

Marilyn Baxter who played Janet MacKenzie the house keeper of the deceased Emily Jane French, I believe had been ill. You would not have known as a feisty performance complete with Scottish accent and comedy moments to boot. I loved the red-herring of putting her left hand on the bible to take the oath. Also hitting the dock with her handbag on exit to show her disdain of Leonard Vole!

Ria Hall playing Romaine added just enough mystery and suspense to the part. A difficult character to portray as she is not likeable - this kind of character is at risk of losing audience support. Ria managed to keep me engaged and wanting to know more as she toyed with the other characters including a deceptive turn with her alter ego. I would just say after the dramatic scuffle with the knife, it would have been better to not drop the knife as I immediately thought “Oh, plastic!”

In the Second Act we see the prosecution QC, Miss Myers played by Philippa Shaw take on Sir Wilfrid and as a female QC of the chauvinist 1950’s she holds her own very well.

Nathaniel Reid doubled up as Mr Clegg and The Policeman. In the courtroom scene as Mr Clegg the bumbling forensic, whose notes were all mixed up and he obviously felt like he was on trial. With some lovely comedy moments and a caught-in-the-headlights air about his performance as Clegg.

Matt Orrillard as Leonard Vole, the accused took the part in his stride playing the likeable rogue. He had great charisma and charm and a good connection with other cast members. I liked his portrayal of the character’s supposed naivety. Without giving too much away, it is a great skill to not play the ending out and see the character unfold. Good performance!

Michael Pirks taking on the roles of Carter and the Court Usher looked to be really relishing his roles. I take it was not scripted for the Court Usher to have OCD about cleanliness?! How much can you milk out of cleaning a bible every time someone takes oath - just hilarious! Michael certainly did and pulled it off with just enough to not deter from the main action.

Mark Murphy’s character Sir Wilfred Robarts QC taking on the defence for Leonard Vole was destined for this role and perfect casting. With a rounded character and a real sense of what was needed for the role, he interacted on different levels with the cast: irritated by Miss Myers, intrigued by Romaine and a real sense of wrongdoing on behalf of Leonard Vole. Mark showed moments of wit too without overplaying it. He was an instantly likeable character, a real honest & polished performance - bravo!

Centenary Theatre Company should be really proud of this production………Thank you for your hospitality & an enjoyable evening and I did secretly punch the air when I got the murderer right!

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