Can Agatha Christie still surprise a modern audience? If the Dundee Rep Ensemble presentation of Witness for the Prosecution is anything to go by then, yes.
The play, based primarily in a courtroom, is following the case of Leonard Vole who is accused of the murder of a wealthy widow. The subsequent subtle questioning of Leonard and his wife Romaine, together with his defence team’s strategy, all require a degree of attention, particularly when things begin to fall apart. Kenny Miller’s direction allows just enough humour from the supporting characters to keep the audience engaged without resorting to farce. This light relief allows what would otherwise be procedural cross-examinations to be broken up. The audible gasps at some of the plot reveals proves that Christie stories, when presented well, can still surprise. This production will keep devout Christie fans guessing as to whether the Director will choose the better known ending or that of the original short story.
Ewan Donald as Leonard Vole is fantastic throughout. His expressive body language combined with his delivery creates an air of anxiety and well-judged ambiguity around whether he is guilty or a patsy.
Leonard’s defence, Sir Wilfred Robarts QC, played by Tony Flynn in a very energetic fashion, is both contemporary and entertaining. By contrast, Billy Mack’s prosecution QC exudes gravitas. This counter-intuitive casting is surprising and succeeds in pushing the dynamics in an alternative direction.
Irene Macdougall’s Romaine, a German immigrant and Vole’s wife, delivers a very effective performance considering the confines of the character and the dialogue she must deliver in order to move the story along. Given the original short story was published in 1925, and later adapted as a play in 1953, this presents today’s audiences with a quandary as to how to react when confronted with the prevalent sexism and xenophobia of the past. Some giggle, some gasp.
The play itself is supported by a two-piece set that would not look out of place on any London stage. It was so pristine as to make many other productions look shabby. The sound quality at Dundee Rep deserves a mention, as does the excellent line of sight from everywhere in the auditorium.