Sharon Spiegel-Wagner sings the praises of Agatha Christie’s whodunit being staged in SA for the first time

Sharon Spiegel-Wagner plays Romaine in 'Witness for the Prosecution'. Picture: Supplied

Sharon Spiegel-Wagner plays Romaine in 'Witness for the Prosecution'. Picture: Supplied

Published May 28, 2024


FANS of Agatha Christie will be delighted to learn that “Witness for the Prosecution” starts its month-long run on May 30 at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino.

This is the first time the production is being staged in South Africa.

It is based on Christie’s 1953 play of the same name, which was also turned into a movie directed by Billy Wilder, in 1957.

The theatre show is directed by Alan Swerdlow, who said: “It has never been staged professionally in this country, principally because of the excessively large size of the cast.

“Fortunately, the administrators of the literary rights of Christie’s works are actively encouraging fresh approaches to the plays, and this allowed me a chance to reappraise her best play (in my opinion) in which her characters were fully realised as psychologically complex individuals.

“Pieter Toerien first asked me to direct a production in 2020 but we all know what happened that year.

“The postponement allowed me time to rethink the production in its entirety, and an indulgent afternoon during lockdown, watching a number of British ‘noir’ films, gave me the way into Christie’s dizzying twists and turns.”

He added: “The vision and physicality of this production has been wonderfully realised by our designers Sarah Roberts, Denis Hutchinson and Adam Howard, and I owe them my deepest gratitude.”

Graham Hopkins is the other lead in “Witness for the Prosecution”. Picture: Supplied

The cast is helmed by Graham Hopkins and Sharon Spiegel-Wagner, with Mike Huff, Craig Jackson, Peter Terry, Dianne Simpson, Brett Krüger, Matthew Lotter, Micah Stojakovic, Jordan Soares, Bulelo Landman and Casandra Brussel in supporting roles.

Earlier this week, I caught up with Spiegel-Wagner, who has been cast in the lead role of Romaine, and she couldn’t stop singing the praises of the show.

She explained: “This particular work of Agatha Christie, I think, well, we all think, it’s the best. Who doesn’t love Agatha Christie? We were supposed to do it just before Covid hit and it was all set up and ready to happen in 2021 and we didn’t think we would come back with it.

“Then, Pieter realised that it was something that was just the right amount of entertainment, intrigue and mystery. Something that everybody needs. It is a wonderful courtroom drama that you don’t see a lot of on stage but you see a lot of it on TV.

“And as soon as it came back, Alan obviously took the bull by the horns and everything aligned itself in a way that this could happen and we could bring it back here.”

Interestingly, Spiegel-Wagner pointed out that the production was still running at an courthouse in London.

She added: “We can’t do a courthouse drama in SA courts because we have enough as it is. But we created it beautifully in the theatre. It’s going to be magical and I’m very excited for SA audiences to see it.”

On being cast in the lead, the seasoned actress shared: “For me, I’ve always gone very carefully and gently into roles that are iconic because, you know Marlene Dietrich played it in the film.

“I go very gently into it because it is a very difficult expectation that people may have and also the pressure of today is that theatre has to be a little more contemporary so audiences don’t feel alienated and like they cannot connect with the work.

“The first thing I needed to do was pay homage to the original beginning, which is Agatha. I bought books about her. People don’t see the writer behind all these amazing things and the writer is the birth, that’s who started it.

“It started inside Agatha’s mind, all these narratives began with her. I just filtered down how she writes, the structure of her plays and what she enjoys, the language she uses and so forth.

“The wonderful thing about Romaine is that she is iconic. She is a femme fatale. She is quite powerful, there’s a magnetism to her and which actress doesn’t want to play that.”

Spiegel-Wagner continued: “Agatha has done something so clever with her. She’s made her a foreigner in this entire landscape. She’s from Germany and she’s this sort of enigma, which is exactly what everything was like after World War II.

“Europeans didn’t quite connect, they didn’t know each other. Nowadays, you connect online, everyone has a German friend, everyone has a French friend and they cross over.

“But back then, you didn’t have that really so xenophobia was rather real. There’s a foreigner you don’t really understand. And that’s a clever tool that Agatha used to make Romaine different.”

Aside from the stellar cast and writing, she raved about the set, the costumes and the overall look of the production.

“I must just tell you, it is so vintage when you watch it. We are taking you back to a portal, post-World War II, where people were rationing food and times were desperate. It feels almost post-apocalyptic, which is what we just went through with Covid in an industrial and technical way.”

Before dashing off, she added: “Some of the actors are playing two characters but because the costumes are so elaborate and gorgeous, and because these actors are so bloody good, you can’t tell that they are the same actor.

“That’s how skilled we all are. We are all working so hard. I’m really proud of my ‘Witness’ family.

“With the calibre of talent and skill on stage and just the quality of the writing, there is nothing like it in SA at the moment. There’s nothing like it that has ever been on stage in SA. It is one of those nights that you can just go and try and figure out whodunit.

“It’s a murder mystery, it’s like playing ‘Cluedo’ live. It’s the most exciting, most well-constructed, beautifully directed play. It is guaranteed entertainment!”

Where: Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino.

When: May 30 until June 30. Show times are Wednesday to Friday at 7.30pm, Saturday at 3pm and 7.30pm and on Sunday at 3pm.

Cost: Ticket prices vary between R150 to R300 and can be purchased through Webtickets.