Witness for the Prosecution

(Sunnybank Theatre Group)


By Agatha Christie

Amateur production

It was an uncommonly bitter Brisbane winter night. The temperature had tumbled to just 10 degrees after the icy winter winds from the south insolently advanced across the border and challenged even the most forbearing cold-resistant Queenslander. The Sunnybank Theatre Group couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate evening to stage an Agathie Christie play. There were no spare seats. And one hoped for a bit of warmth and a convincing performance.

Three set changes were just enough to keep the audience cosy. The first, the chambers of Sir Wilfrid Robarts, QC, played by Chris Guyler, were a bit sparse and a few more books, papers and other subtleties of the law would have fed the imagination and complemented the action. There was nothing for the audience to play with except the occasional visits by Greta (Katie Hansen) with hoped-for tea.

Scene 2 was the Central Criminal Court otherwise known as “The Old Bailey”. Justice Wainwright (Deon Spann) sat resplendent against a glowing red background. Synchronised splashes of red played on black as the barristers presented their cases.

As each witness was called it would have been ideal for them to erupt from the seats of the audience instead of through the back door of the stage, thus making a connection with the audience.

Fog and lamplight provided the canvas for the first part of Act II and this was really effective. Fog as the metaphor for the obscurity of truth, lamplight lighting the way to it. More CO2 would have been handy!

Most memorable about the sets was the clever threading of scenes through acting freezes. Just as the curtains reopened, voila, the audience was right back where it left off. Very clever indeed.

And costuming was just right, except for the shiny silver watch worn by John Rix who played Barrister to Mr Myers.

As Leonard Vole, the young man charged with murder, Andrew Herrmann struggled with nerves at the start and then warmed eagerly to his role. Andrew was amazingly convincing as the seemingly naïve and innocent Leonard.

Logie for the night went to Lesley Davis who played Leonard’s partner, Romaine Vole. Her ability to move between duplicity, grandiloquence, downright devilry, and then ultimately to tragedy, credited her with acting prowess as she swept easily between roles and never missed a line.

Further credit goes to Chris Guyler for his role as Sir Wilfrid Robarts QC. Guyler looked the part and had by far the longest stretch on stage. His role was convincing though some fine-tuning of his character might have reached across the stage into the arms of the audience.

John Henningham as Mr Mayhew was convincing and dedicated. But Henningham may need to learn how to hold a pipe! His humour came just in the nick of time.

It can be said that most performing arts lovers are music lovers and musical interludes could have been cranked to the max. The screams from the audience at the end meant most of us were pretty clueless and a few more tuneful hints would have helped. Perhaps a solo violin or flute? The opportunity begged.

Lighting was consistently bright and a bit of experimentation and messing around with different lighting effects might have taken the sometimes discernable squints off the actors’ faces, or was that just struggling to remember lines? It was a relief to go into the gloom outside the criminal court for a time.

But for any lack of special effects, nothing could prepare the audience for the surprise ending. The timing was flawless. Impeccable.

All in all, a great night out and well worth the drive to Sunnybank to enjoy the warmth and talent.

Directed by Pam Murdoch

Playing 29th July to 13th August 2005: Fri-Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm

Running Time: Two-and-a-half hours including 15 minute interval

— Daphne Haneman
(Performance seen: Thu 11th August 2005)