Murder and double jeopardy take center stage in Center REPertory Company’s production of Witness for the Prosecution!
Charlie Jarrett
November 2, 2009

Agatha Christie’s brilliantly suspenseful award winning dramatic play, Witness for the Prosecution, is currently playing in the Margaret Lesher Theatre in the Lesher Center for the Arts in downtown Walnut Creek. Under the expert direction of Michael Butler, this tightly constructed and intriguing play addresses a murder trial conducted in the “Old Bailey”, a famous British court, where it comes fully to life.

This play was originally written as a short story by Agatha Christie. It was first produced on stage in Nottingham, England in 1953, then moved on to the Winter Garden Theatre in London a month later. This intriguing play details the story of a young married man, Leonard Vole (Alex Moggridge), who befriends a very wealthy older woman, Mrs. French. When Mrs. French is found murdered a couple of months later, Mr. Vole becomes the prime suspect, when it is revealed that Mrs. French had recently changed her will and left the majority of her estate to him. Strong circumstantial evidence also points to Mr. Vole as the perpetrator. Leonard’s wife, Romaine (Carrie Paff), a very cold and calculating woman of European origin, provides his only alibi, telling her husband’s attorney (solicitor), Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Mark Anderson Phillips), that he returned home and was with her precisely when the murder supposedly occurred. Sir Robarts is concerned that the wife of the accused is not likely to provide the greatest of asset to the defense, just because she is his wife. He explains this fact to her. The attorney and his assistant, Jean Mayhew (Valerie Weak), prepare what appears to be a very weak case of defense and begin that defense in court when completely unexpectedly, the accused murderer’s wife is surprisingly called as a witness for the prosecution. The defense team and her husband are stunned!

The remainder of the play has more twists and turns than a “pig’s tail”, and this stunning revelation is the first of several revelations and plot twists that continue to turn this brilliantly written plot into one of the most exciting plays you can possibly imagine.

The acting is perfect in every respect. If you have seen the movie version starring Tyrone Power, Charles Laughton, Elsa Manchester and Marlene Dietrich, dismiss everything you remember, because this director’s vision develops his characters differently. I loved Alex Moggridge’s characterization of the suspected murderer, Leonard Vole. He seems totally unassailable, a simple guy who is caught in a web of circumstance. His excuses and reasons for befriending Mrs. French seems totally plausible. Miss Paff’s portrayal of his double-crossing wife, Romaine, is brilliant. Mark Anderson Phillips’s character (Sir Wilfrid Robarts) is totally different than that portrayed by Charles Laughton in the movie, as the character is written totally different in the play version. It works very well in this production. Prosecuting attorney, Mr. Myers (played by Mark Farrell), is simply outstanding. The entire cast is perfectly selected and is directed in excellent fashion by Michael Butler.

The carousel set designed by J.B. Wilson is stunning, well conceived and highly effective. The costumes by Victoria Livingston-Hall are equally well conceived. One of the most effective elements in this production is the lighting design by Scott Denison.

If you enjoy the excellent mystery and suspense created by one of the most prolific mystery writers of our times, Agatha Christie, then by all means, Witness for the Prosecution is a must see on your entertainment agenda.


Witness a strong Center REP production!
Sally Hogarty
November 4, 2009

TWISTS AND TURNS abound in Center Rep's intriguing production of Witness for the Prosecution, which opened last week at the Lesher Center for the Arts.

Agatha Christie's great courtroom drama gets its due with a strong cast led by Mark Anderson Phillips as the clever Sir Wilfrid Robarts. Full of quips and dramatic pauses followed by rapid delivery of his lines, Phillips is a pleasure to watch. He is well matched by Mark Farrell as the prosecutor. I worked with Farrell years ago in Judgment at Nuremburg, where he was marvelous as the defense attorney. Maybe if he tires of acting, he should look at law school.

On trial for the murder of a rich old widow is Leonard Vole (charmingly portrayed by Alex Moggridge). Vole's sole alibi depends on his German wife (the marvelous Carrie Paff) corroborating his story, which she does at first. In one of many twists, however, she changes her tune and becomes the prosecution's infamous witness.

The cast includes a host of well-known Bay Area performers like John Hetzler in several roles, and others such as Clay Englar and Kerri Shawn in cameo appearances. Bay Area icon Ken Ruta appears as Justice Wainwright.

Opening night had a few pacing problems, but this impeccable cast should easily be up to speed by now. Director Michael Butler swore the audience to secrecy so if you want to know the ending you'll have to attend.