THEATRE stands in a strange relationship to the traditional thriller with a savage twist in the tail.
Witness For The Prosecution | Rating: **** | Dundee Rep
We take our seats, we suspend our disbelief, we make what we can of the story – only to realise in the final moments that the characters we’ve seen built up were completely false, and the “truth” of the story is quite unrelated to most of what we’ve seen.
If the genre is intrinsically unsatisfying, though, it’s still hugely entertaining - and oddly informative - to experience the Queen of Crime at her subversive best, playing us all for fools, and finishing with a magnificent knockout punch to the sexist and xenophobic stereotypes that seem, until the last 10 minutes, to be driving the drama.
Based on a short story first published in 1925, Agatha Christie’s stage verson of Witness For The Prosecution first appeared in 1953, and tells the story of a charming young drifter called Leonard Vole, who is on trial for the murder of a wealthy elderly lady he has befriended, and who has just altered her will in his favour. Vole is married, after a fashion, to a German woman called Romaine, who - instead of confirming her husband’s alibi - turns witness for the prosecution. The story revolves around the question of her trustworthiness, as both Vole’s solicitor Mayhew, and his brilliant defending QC Sir Wilfrid Robarts, form the lowest opinion of her character.
All of this is captured with great dark satirical flair in Kenny Miller’s new production, featuring a huge, impressive courtroom-cum-office set, and a large cast, augmented by members of the Dundee Rep community sitting as jurors. There’s also a sensational, slightly ironic lighting design by Kate Bonney, as lights fizzle and crackle at moments of crisis, and Sir Wilfrid’s frizzily-permed secretary Greta - a witty Emily Winter - enters bearing trays of candles.
At the core of the show, though, is a pair of solid performances from Tony Flynn and Barrie Hunter as Sir Wilfrid and Mayhew, and two brilliant ones from Ewan Donald and Irene Macdougall as the Voles, both acting so well, on at least two levels at once, that we never have a clue what’s really going on. In one sense, it seems a great deal of talent to expend on an old-style murder mystery. But in another, this production makes a powerful case for Witness For The Prosecution as an example of Agatha Christie’s art at its finest; setting up a conventional whodunnit tale, but finally damning both the British legal establishment and the audience itself, by exposing the flimsy foundation of prejudice on which so many of our judgments are based.
• Until 19 March