Staging Agatha Christie's Witness For the Prosecution was the best tribute anyone could have given her!
It was crime and passion last weekend at the Museum Theatre as The Madras Players staged their latest production, “Witness for the Prosecution.” The play celebrates the 120th birth anniversary of the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. The story, which plays out as a courtroom drama, was wonderfully executed by director N.S. Yamuna.
Christie's stories are never as simple as they appear; she's adept at taking the reader through the most unexpected twists, ensuring you never take a character for granted. The same holds good for ‘Witness…'. What begins as a straightforward case of a nearly-bankrupt man (Leonard Vole) wrongly indicted for murdering a rich lady, the story constantly takes surprising turns until devious motives are revealed. Most watching the play were well-acquainted with Christie's style and the story; but if not, it kept them guessing till the end.
Vivek Hariharan as Leonard was terrific. His transition from the eager-to-please young man to the naive victim of circumstances and finally a cold-blooded murderer and heartless husband was perfect. Particularly in the court scenes where his expressions change with every testimony; it's like watching the noose tighten around his neck. Sudhir Ahuja as the grand (and tottering) old man Sir Wilfred and Counsel for Defence was pure pleasure to watch. His confidence in Leonard's innocence finally revealed to be his gullibility was played to perfection. As were the several humorous interludes he provides.
Geetha Lakshman as the suspicious housekeeper Ms. Gomez does a complete Spanish act, with accent, mannerisms and even dress. But the evening, without doubt, belonged to Tehzeeb Katari (Romaine Vole/mysterious woman). Her switch from the aloof Mrs. Vole with the perfect German accent to the loud and convincing Cockney woman with incriminating love letters – she took everyone for a ride. Even Christie would have applauded excitedly.
High's and low's
The signature tune, recreated by Anil Srinivasan, was haunting and reminiscent of old b/w movies. And better suited than the free-wheeling jazz before the start of the play. The sets, by Mithran Devanesen, weren't elaborate but lent the right mood. Direction proved taut and the story stayed on course all along.
There was little to fault, except for a couple of slips. Considering the length of the play (over two hours), you must allow that leeway. Also, the abrupt exit by Sir Wilfred in the final scene jarred.
The play had everything you could ask for – gripping story, great production values and a skilled cast. But it was disappointing that a majority of the audience was post-retirement. Surprising that Christie no longer has young takers because as a writer she never fails to fascinate. The real crime last weekend was to have missed this.
Tanya is a IInd year student of B.Com at Stella Maris College.