Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is eligible for its bus-pass as it is currently in its 65th year of its continuous run in the West End. Whether or not it should be pensioned off, as some unkind critics suggest, is a debate for another occasion but, I would argue strongly it is not the best Christie currently on the London stage. That honour I would unequivocally give to Witness for the Prosecution which is being staged in the old Council Chamber at London’s County Hall – the former seat of local government in the city.
This production, which has just been extended to run until September 2018, is a theatrical tour de force. The setting is redolent of the heated past debates which have taken place in the chamber and has been superbly transformed into the claustrophobic courtroom setting for the trial of Leonard Vole – played with appropriate mix of weakness and bravado by Jack McMullen. Catherine Steadman takes the eponymous role of Leonard’s wife Romaine and plays the audience with a powerful sense of drama through to the play’s shocking conclusion.
The experience was heightened for me by being Juror 12, and though I cannot give away the verdict (read out by Juror 1, another audience member, who stuck strictly to the script), it became clear that, for Christie, the barristers and judges in a courtroom are indeed very much like players in a theatrical production, addressing their pre-prepared lines to their audience – the jury – with every intention of swaying them emotionally to believe in their story, whether it be fact or fiction.
Even if you have seen the play before – or the excellent 1957 film (with Marlene Dietrich in the title role) – this production has tricks up its sleeve which make it, for me, a far better version than the recent TV adaptation and one that is much more true to the spirit of Christie.