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AGATHA CHRISTIE'S WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION Royal George Theatre/Shaw Festival
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Jun 3, 2024, 10:49
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Shaw Festival
Through October 13
AGATHA CHRISTIE’S WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION Royal George Theatre/Shaw Festival

By Augustine Warner

The standard description of a trial is something out of an old King Arthur movie, two men in the dueling lists trying to knock each other off their horses and win his case.
Not only are the lawyers and the judge much more likely to be female today, there’s a better understanding of what’s really going on.
That’s also true of “Agatha Christie’s Witness for The Prosecution,” using Karyn McCallum’s cunning set in the Shaw Festival’s tight Royal George Theatre.
For the courtroom scenes, the audience is the fourth wall, occupying the viewpoint of the jury, looking toward the bewigged judge on the high bench looking down at the defendant in the box, witnesses, lawyers and court officials.
The name Agatha Christie may seem familiar to you, Hercule Poirot, Masterpiece Theatre and all of that.
But, she had a parallel career as a playwright, particularly with this play and the eternally-running “The Mousetrap.”
All of Christie’s plotting skills and dramatic twists and turns show up on stage as well as on the printed page.
A unique part of this play, as well as “Mousetrap” is that viewers are asked not to tell anyone what ultimately happens.
Okay, I will go along with that, although there is a movie version which might give it away.
Basically, there’s a rich dead woman whose will gives her estate to this financially-struggling guy, who has been hanging around her, Leonard Vole (Andrew Lawrie).
Vole goes to solicitor Mr. Mayhew (Kristopher Bowman) for help, who in turn takes the brief to Sir Wilfrid Robarts, QC (Patrick Galligan), an esteemed barrister.
Under the British system, the barrister is the front man lawyer in a trial.
As the two defense lawyers discuss the case with Vole, police officers show up and take him away, to be charged with murdering the rich woman.
Then, Romaine Vole (Marla McLean) surfaces and tells the lawyers what she knows.
In the end, both lawyers are skeptical of the stories husband and wife tell, particularly as they learn the two aren’t actually husband and wife.
As usual, the core of the play is the courtroom, in London’s legendary “Old Bailey” on the Strand, with the giant statue of “blind justice” on the roof.
One wing stands on the site of Newgate prison, together showing the country’s legal system has been centered on this speck of land for centuries.
“Witness” opened in 1953, clearly well before trials centered on what CSI evidence existed.
Instead, this trial is more people and witnesses and any criminal lawyer will tell you the weaknesses of relying on human input.
While there are a lot of people on the cast list, most are just filling roles, even Shawn Wright’s Mr. Justice Wainwright.
The key roles are Galligan, McLean, Lawrie and prosecutor Mr. Myers, QC.
This is a story of innuendo and suspicions and the prosecution convincing the jurors that in all this murky evidence is the story of a man murdering an elderly woman for her money.
Classic plays and movies tell that story.
It’s possible to hear the verdict and wonder: How did they reach that decision?
Here, there is more to it but that’s part of the secret.
The play is long enough that there are two intermissions.
There are twists and turns and it’s possible to lose your way in the dramatic tunnel as the play moves along.
It’s early in the Shaw Festival season.
However, “Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution” is one of the first hits of the season and it’s justified.

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