We chatted to Madeleine about starring in Witness For the Prosecution at London County Hall.

(c)Jay Brooks

Hi Madeleine, how does it feel to be part of this production?  It’s a brilliant show to be a part of! The venue at County Hall is spectacular, and the drama onstage is really enriched by the texture of the old council chamber, with its huge vaulted ceiling, plush (very comfy) red leather seats, echoey halls and dramatic marble floors. The space feels anticipatory before we’ve even put a tiptoe onstage. Of course it’s also a delight to be in a play right on the Southbank in a post-pandemic summer – people are really up for being entertained.

What do you think the main appeal of Witness for the Prosecution is? There’s something mischievous that steals over the audiences in County Hall. Because of the immersive nature of the show – characters walking through the foyer on important business, a soundscape that whooshes the reactions to the courtroom drama right through the audience, and the fact that you can be a part of the jury if you wish (though beware, you will have actors making intense eye contact with you!) – all of this encourages audience members to be far more vocal than we’re used to being. Depending on where you’re sat, you might have a witness frogmarched out by a policeman right past your seat, or catch little snippets of conversation as characters enter the chamber. People turn to make predictions to their neighbour, laugh so freely in this play, and there are moments when they audibly gasp as a collective. It’s exhilarating to observe and respond to as a performer, so I can only imagine how fun it must be to experience yourself. People have always loved trying to predict the twists and turns of an Agatha Christie, and you can really feel all that energy crackling throughout the chamber. You won’t find another play in London that almost dares you to shout ‘WHAT!?’ when something shocking happens like Witness does.

How has it been working with the rest of the cast to continue to bring this story to the stage? Our assistant director, Josh Mathieson, was keen to stress right from the off that the drama needed to feel alive all the way to its extremities – from the scenes in the middle of the room, through the court clerks and stenographer, to the judge and alderman, all the way to the police officers patrolling the perimeter. He encouraged everyone to find detail and life in their role, and channel that energy into the core of the action, which really set us up as a company to feel like we’re all vital parts of the organism of the play. This atmosphere has continued offstage, and it feels like a particularly supportive, effortless, ego-less atmosphere. Which, needless to say, is delicious. As well as living out my socialist theatre dream, I get to watch and work with some really inspiring actors which I’m loving. 

What can you tell us about your character and what is it like to play Romaine? Hmm. I can tell you that she’s the German wife of the defendant, Leonard Vole, and a very talented actor. She’s completely unexpected in so many ways! She’s by far the most intelligent person in the story. She’s not afraid to let a silence marinate, make someone squirm or mock the fusty older gentlemen who gatekeep the English justice system. As a German immigrant after the Second World War, she has a lot of prejudice to battle, but in a way since so much has been taken from her she has very little to lose and so much to gain. She’s very self-aware and will use every trick in the book to leverage herself into a better position. She’s a survivor. I love how the design of her costume is purposefully a little anachronistic – she dresses like a Beatnik and wears the beret of an intellectual revolutionary, so there’s something really punky and counter-cultural about her. 

This all makes her an absolute joy to play – I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of her. She’s this intriguing mixture of directness and indirectness – she’ll dodge a question by asking one back, or answering something totally different while charming you into thinking she’s answered you perfectly. At other points she’s so blunt that it’s like the people around her are physically tripped up. Jo Stone-Fewings, who plays Sir Wilfrid, once likened the experience of talking to me as Romaine in our first scene to watching the Tasmanian devil whizz through his chambers. She’s very free which is in turn very freeing.

For those who haven’t seen it yet – what can they expect from Witness for the Prosecution? I’d say expect big drama, big laughs and big twists. This is a play that forces you to buckle in and wave your (metaphorical) arms along with the ride. Expect some gorgeous performances. Expect the unexpected, and absolutely 100% expect not to be able to guess the ending. 

By Emma Clarendon

Witness for the Prosecution continues to play at the London County Hall until the 28th April 2024. You can book your tickets here.


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