Catherine Steadman of Downton Abbey can currently be seen on stage in a 1950s Agatha Christie adaptation on London’s South Bank.

Catherine, who lives in Manor House, is starring in Witness for the Prosecution until March 2018. Known for her role as Mabel Lane in the popular ITV drama, she has also appeared in Fresh Meat, The Tudors, The Inbetweeners, and film work includes Richard Curtis’ About Time and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

She also has a great portfolio of theatre work; she was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress at the Olivier Awards for her role in Oppenheimer (RSC/ West End), and she won great acclaim for originating the role of Izzy in Polly Stenham’s That Face at the Royal Court alongside Matt Smith and Lindsay Duncan.

The new production takes place in a spectacular 1950s-style courtroom setting inside the historic Grade II listed County Hall building on London’s South Bank, rarely accessible to the general public. The audience will be sitting right in the thick of the action in what will feel like a real sensational trial back at the Old Bailey.

This show gives new generations a chance to experience Christie’s thrilling plot twists and memorable characters for the 21st century.

This is one of the first major productions of Christie’s plays to open in London since the 1960s, The Mousetrap notwithstanding. Even though Christie’s writing is incredibly popular (she is the most widely published author of all time and, in many languages, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare) she is predominantly known as a novelist.

Less covered is that she took enormous pleasure from writing plays. Interestingly, Christie has said in her autobiography that Witness for the Prosecution “was one of my plays that I like best myself.”

I spoke to Catherine to find out what she thinks...

Times Series:

Witness for the Prosecution. Photo by Idil Sukan

Can you tell me a little bit about the production?

It’s an immersive, site specific production of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution, set in the 1950s when we still had capital punishment. Lucy Bailey, the Director, is keeping it very exciting for the audience - all the action takes place in an epic space inside County Hall, which looks very similar to the Old Bailey. The audience will be watching this murder trial unfold around them, in a sense they are the jury. It makes the whole thing much more exciting and immediate, there’s more at stake.

I play Romaine, the wife of Leonard Vole who is accused of murder and the whole case hangs on her testimony. It’s a fantastic part, she’s full of contradictions. My character comes from Germany and now has to live in a British society that’s very old-fashioned. But she’s not a very sentimental person, she’s been through a lot and is very direct. 

Who will enjoy the show?

I think it’ll appeal to theatre and non-theatre fans alike due to the immersive nature of the production. The show will play out almost like an interactive experience for the audience. Mic Poole’s sound design as well as the set and lighting effects will lend a very filmic quality and atmosphere to the show.

Tell me about your time on Downton Abbey

It was a wonderful thing to be a part of, it’s a real source of pride to have been a part of a show that so many people have seen and loved all over the world. I worked on the show in its fifth series and when I joined the cast they all made me feel so welcome. It was a fun working environment and we got to film in some absolutely gorgeous locations.

How does TV compare to theatre?

TV is a lot quicker than theatre. There is no real rehearsal period for TV. You learn your lines and show up and briefly outline the scene before shooting it. With theatre however you get 4-5 weeks to work on your scenes string the play together.

Did theatre and performance play a big part in your childhood?

Not really. I wasn’t really a drama kid at school. I wasn’t involved in school plays - they were usually musicals with the focus being more musical or choral rather than focused on the acting itself.

Were you very outgoing?

Er, I guess so! I think I was pretty lively when I was a teenager. I was definitely told to calm down and sit down a lot.

Did you study it – where?

I went to drama school for three years, The Oxford School of Drama.

How did you get into it professionally?

I met my agent at our graduation showcase and I’ve been with him ever since.

Do you get nervous?

Sometimes - but usually only if I don’t know my lines or the scene well enough. So I try and make sure it never happens.

Do you have any tricks to overcome nerves?


What is planned for after the play?

A holiday! My first novel Something in the Water is coming out in July 2018 so I’ll be preparing for the run up to that. 

Witness for the Prosecution is running at London County Hall.