‘The first play I ever acted in was The Mousetrap,” says director and drama teacher Carl Hamilton, when asked about his connection to the work of Agatha Christie.
Christie has long been famous for her tightly written whodunits, baffling fans and beguiling critics onstage and on the page. Though Hamilton has been a fan of Christie’s writing since the 1980s, he’s never directed one of her plays.
Until now, that is. Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution, which opened last weekend at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, is a production of North Bay Stage Co. According to Hamilton, he waited for the right Agatha Christie play to be his first.
“I think it’s her best play,” he says of the 1953 stage adaptation of Christie’s own 1925 short story, originally titled “Traitor Hands.” No one is saying that’s a great
title, but all was forgiven when
the play, with its new name, opened in London, where it became a huge hit.
The story, set in the courtroom and chambers at London’s Old Bailey, involves a man accused of murdering an old woman. His alibi is his own wife, who suddenly seems a less reliable witness than anyone, especially the accused, could have expected.
“It has one of those quirky endings Agatha Christie was famous for,” says Hamilton, “and this play in particular was known for the big surprise at the end.”
In fact, to protect the big twist, a credit was added to the end of the movie: “The management of this theater suggests that for the greater entertainment of your friends who have not yet seen the picture, you will not divulge, to anyone, the secret of the ending of Witness for the Prosecution.”
“For me, personally, it works as a radio play too,” Hamilton says. “During rehearsals, I liked to just close my eyes and listen to it. If you have good actors, you know it’s working just by listening to their voices.”
The resulting production is fairly stripped down, a trademark of Hamilton’s work. “Though it’s set in a courtroom in England, there are no big English lawyer wigs, no English costumes. Each actor is dressed in black with a splash of color to distinguish them. The show is really tight, because the script is tight. There’s no wasted dialogue.
“If you close your eyes and listen,” Hamilton says, “it’s awesome.”