Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie

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Review in the Farnham Herald:

Courtroom triumph

Every now and again, along comes an amateur production that leaves you scratching your head and wondering: 'Did I really see something that good in a village hall?'

And yes, this production by the Players really was that good.

It's a tough play to put on. For one thing, the set has to have the gravitas of a courtroom, never easy in the confines of provincial halls.

There are several tough characters to get right - the legal eagles for a start, who have to own the stage in the same way they own the court when they perform for real in front of a judge; as well as the defendant who has to be believeable. If the audience doesn't warm to him, the whole evening doesn't work.

Agatha Christie plays are full of twists and turns. The audience likes to try to guess what the outcome is well before the mystery is played out on stage. And keeping the audience on the edge of their seats and in confusion is also tricky.

But the Players did all that. And more. Much more.

The stage designers, props team, lighting and sound engineers all deserve hearty congratulations. Yes, the space they had to work in at the Tilford Institute was tight, but the audience never noticed. We were transported to the grandeur of the Old Bailey.

And on to the play itself.

The story revolves around Leonard Vole, who is accused of murdering Emily French, a wealthy elderly woman who just happens to have changed her will, making him her sole heir. Guilty or innocent?

Tony Carpenter owned the role. We wanted him to be the honest chap he seemed; surely he really was a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the hapless police charged him because he was a convenient scapegoat?

We liked Tony. Yes, he was nervous and twitchy and there was something a little odd about him - but we liked him. He could never tell porkies like the police insisted.

Helen Phillips as Romaine also shone. What a performance as Leonard's wife. Was she on her husband's side, or did she really harbour grave doubts as to his innocence? The ambiguous answers she gave counsel, the way she carried herself on stage... truly remarkable.

And that accent... what an accent!

The courtroom battles between formidable prosecutor Miss Myers QC (Sara Wilson-Soppitt) and defending counsel Sir Wilfred Roberts QC (Bernard Whelan) were realistic and entertaining.

Other performances, while not grabbing the stage like the principal roles, were equally eye-catching.

The looks Emily French's housekeeper Janet Mackenzie (Jane Quicke) gave Vole chilled the bone. Jo Huddlestone as the judge, Mr Justice Wainwright, was just as you'd imagine a judge of yesteryear.

Yes, Agatha Christie's language doesn't really stand the test of time - since when has a 56-year-old woman been 'elderly' and can you really use the phrase 'never trust a woman'?

But other dialogue rings true. Any woman can fool a man if she wants to, she writes, especially if he is in love with her. As true then as it is today!

And to all the other members of the cast and back-room team we don't have room to name here - take a bow. Witness for the Prosecution was a job very, very well done.

Players' director Hilary Lee-Corbin says she always found Agatha Christie's writing 'riveting'.

You and your talented team really did her justice, Hilary.

Colin Channon