The Legacy of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution

Agatha Christie’s suspense filled courtroom play, Witness for the Prosecution, has been thrilling audiences with its themes of justice and betrayal since 1953. The play started life as a short story first published in 1925, only five years into Agatha Christie’s career as a published author. It appeared in Flynn’s Weekly magazine under the title Traitor Hands before being published as The Witness for the Prosecution in short story collection, The Hound of Death. Almost thirty years later Christie was approached by theatre producer Peter Saunders who suggested she revised the short story into a courtroom drama for the stage. Christie originally resisted, telling Saunders that if he wanted a stage version he’d have to write it himself, which he did! But after being disappointed with his adaptation, Christie decided to write her own, and within a few weeks had returned her version of the script to him.

Adapting the short story to a play meant that the plot had to undergo some changes, which included the ending. Initially Christie was told that her new ending wouldn’t work and would have to be changed, but she fought desperately to keep it, going to the extreme of not allowing the play to go ahead without it. Fortunately, Christie got her way. She described the ending as ‘what could have happened, what might have happened, and in my view probably what would have happened’, despite others resistance to it.

The play opened at the West End’s Winter Garden Theatre on 28 October 1953 and was a tremendous success from the beginning. Reminiscing in An Autobiography Christie claimed it was ‘the only first night I have enjoyed,’ going on to say, ‘I was happy, radiantly happy, and made even more so by the applause of the audience.’ Christie, who was usually shy and avoided being in the public eye, remembers cheerfully signing fans autograph books after the opening night, whilst fans praised her with comments including ‘Best you’ve written, dearie!’ and ‘Loved every minute of it!’ In An Autobiography Christie fondly writes, ‘It was a memorable evening. I am proud of it still. And every now and then I dig into the memory chest, bring it out, take a look at it, and say, ‘That was the night, that was!’

The play clocked up 468 performances in London, being described in the Daily Mail at the time as ‘an ingenious and absorbing murder thriller with more than the usual share of comedy.’ During its initial run, Witness for the Prosecution contributed to Christie’s world record of being the only female playwright to have three plays running in London’s West End simultaneously; the others being The Mousetrap and Spider’s Web.

This year Witness for the Prosecution is returning to London; the first major London production of a play written by Agatha Christie since the 1960s. Eleanor Lloyd Productions and Rebecca Stafford Productions are bringing Agatha Christie’s celebrated courtroom drama to a spectacular chamber at London County Hall, situated on South Bank. The play will open in October, giving fans the option to sit in the centre of the action in the jury seats. Discover more about the production and book tickets here.