Review: Witness For The Prosecution
Guilty or not guilty? One day your entire life may hang on these words. Do you fancy your odds?
Witness for the Prosecution is the exciting court room drama of a decent, working class man, fighting against the charge of murdering an elderly lady he cared for. But did he do it? And will he win the fight?
The whole play is set in the Solicitors' office and court room. Admittedly, at first I thought, being held in a single location, it would be repetitive and dull, with little/no scenery change. Then, I just let the story and acting do the talking.
It really is a play of strong actors and strong characters. I was particularly impressed by Denis Lill, who played Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC - on the Council for the Defence. He spoke with immense knowledge and presence in a hugely convincing performance as both actor and QC; and really did control proceedings in the court. This tour-de-force cast also includes Honeysuckle Weeks (Foyle's War), who was the wife of defendant Leonard Vole, played by another eminent actor: Ben Nealon (Soldier Soldier). These actors expertly performed their roles in this strong and engaging production.
The story itself is deeply engaging. It is a show of layered meanings, emotions and themes. On the surface you have just a story. Then you have their portrayal of it. Then you have the actual court case to answer to. All of which you have to get to grips with, and all of which are hugely interesting and successful, as I witnessed that night.
Love. Lies. Truth. Betrayal.
This is a play of serious themes, portrayed in shocking twists and turns that literally left the audience gasping.
It connects with one's innate curiosity and righteousness.
You want to just know the outcome, but you also want to know it's the right one. But you don't really know what that is! Even at the interval, I turned to other members of the audience and asked, "If you were putting your cards on the table, what would you say the outcome of the trial would be, and would it be right?" These are, of course, two very different things, which adds to the layered meaning of the play. This tugs at your sense of right - what if he is innocent and gets hanged? What if he is guilty and gets released?
But, deep down you ask: Did he have the motive? Did he have the means? Who is right?
The audience think they know some of these answers, and so they want to see if the truth comes out. But do we actually know the truth? Do all the witnesses even know the truth? It makes you realise that the jury can do nothing more than just guess.
They have to sentence a man to death or freedom, when they don't even know the truth. It is truly horrifying.
You realise someone in that room knows the answers, but what comes across stronger: the lies or the truths? The cover-up or the uncovering? If someone were up for murder would they care if they lied in God's presence, if they had killed in God's presence? You really don't know whom to believe. So much is circumstantial and so much seems coincidental. Or is it? It makes you realise that the strongest argument isn't always correct - but what prevails?
It would be impossible to even think of a review of this story without mentioning the monumental twists at the end. There are three twists in quick succession, which change your entire understanding of the play, and genuinely leave you breathless and shocked. The verdict has already been given at this point, and these revelations and twists turn everything upside down, but is it too late?
In some stories, the twists define the play. However, they often attempt to make up for a poor story. However, this story was strong the whole way through; this is why the twists impacted as much as they did. Here, therefore, one could say the strength of this story defined the twists, and made them so effective.
If there are just a few things I'll remember of this play, I'll remember the strength and depth of the story and the heart-stopping, draw-dropping twists; the strong actors and characters; and the emotions it tugged on, including the shock, duty, and wit it called upon us as the audience. It was a very witty performance, and this completed it, to make it a very enjoyable complete performance, overall.
Witness For The Prosecution runs until Saturday at the New Theatre - click here for tickets.