Review: Witness for the Prosecution – Dundee Rep

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First published in The Times, Tuesday March 8 2016

Three Stars

It would appear there are two possible approaches that can be taken when dramatising the crime fiction of Agatha Christie. The BBC may have made a bold attempt to inject some social context and depth of characterisation into their recent dark adaptation of And Then There Were None. Yet, the work of the Queen of Crime is still more familiar to stage and screen audiences as a kind of camp pageant, in which characters with all the complexity of Cluedo figurines gather to hear the solution to what amounts to an intricate puzzle.

This new production of Christie’s 1953 play, directed and designed by Kenny Miller for the Dundee Rep ensemble, continues emphatically in the latter vein. The large cast, which includes members of the theatre’s community company in the role of jurors and court officials, enjoy themselves in an array of elaborate wigs and moustaches, with supporting actors Ann Louise Ross and Darren Brownlie chewing the scenery as a parade of grotesque suspects.

Dundee Rep Ensemble Witness for the Prosecution photographer Tommy Ga Gan Wan

Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

While these cameos are distracting, and eventually prove a little wearying, a measure of light relief is required here to offset the expositional nature of the evidence-gathering and courtroom scenes. As the backstory and alleged crime all took place offstage, we hear much lengthy recapping in the course of the action, whether in the offices of defence counsel Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Tony Flynn) or against the plush backdrop of Miller’s recreation of the Old Bailey.

 

The plot and these court proceedings turn on the question of whether Leonard Vole murdered the middle-aged spinster with whom he had struck up a friendship, in order to inherit her fortune. Ewan Donald gives the evening’s strongest performance as the attractive, if rather feckless, young man, who appears buffeted by events outside of his control. Irene Macdougall is in fine imperious form as Romaine, Vole’s older, German wife, who winds up (for reasons explained later in the play) testifying against her husband.

 

This being Christie, there are several twists and turns as the plot gathers pace en route to the denouement, some of which shed new light on the characters while others make ludicrous all that has gone before. Such misgivings are almost allayed by the satisfied vocal response of the audience at the moment of the guilty party’s unmasking. If only the build-up weren’t such a slog.

 

Box office: 01382 223530, to Mar 19. Dundeerep.co.uk

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