Witness For the Prosecution - London

Agatha Christie’s gripping story of justice, passion and betrayal.

London's Witness for the Prosecution Star Lewis Cope on His Famous Former Co-Star & Huge Family

London's Witness for the Prosecution Star Lewis Cope on His Famous Former Co-Star & Huge Family
Lewis Cope in "Witness for the Prosecution"
(Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Witness for the Prosecution, the Agatha Christie thriller directed by Lucy Bailey, has turned into a sleeper hit inside its unusual location of a onetime debating chamber at Westminster’s County Hall. And the play now boasts a delightful new leading man in Lewis Cope, who plays the central role of the accused young murderer Leonard Vole, but, in fact, first appeared on a West End stage as Michael in Billy Elliot. Not that the chatty and engaging Cope has much in common with his current role, as he explained to Broadway.com.

How did you land such a plum gig?
I think just the same as most people. I got a phone call from my agent mentioning the play and read the script and fell in love with it. The turns and twists and stuff like that gripped me, so I booked the audition and had a recall that same week. The same night as the recall they offered me the part.

Hasn’t this all happened very quickly?
It has. I’ve only been out of drama school for a little over a year.

Did you see the show before taking over in it yourself?
We had the option to go and watch it, but I waited until I was in my third week of rehearsals so that I could find my feet a little bit and make my own decisions. It was brilliant when I did see the show because it was so different to the way our cast is doing it—not better or worse, just a different interpretation.

What do you think accounts for the unexpected longevity of this production?
Obviously the venue is a huge star—being in a debating chamber and all that. But I think with Agatha Christie, people always enjoy finding out how you get to the outcome. There’s that secrecy of how the ending really works, and that attracts people who want to be part of the Agatha Christie club.

Have you personally ever had a brush with the law?
Thankfully no, not yet; I haven’t had to go to court or anything like that. But during rehearsals we went to the [famous criminal court] the Old Bailey and sat and watched a few trials, but that is so different to our play. They’ve got a very businesslike way of handling proceedings, whereas we’ve got to be a bit more entertaining.

Karl Wilson & Lewis Cope in Witness for the Prosecution
(Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

How does this compare, now that you are in your 20s, to playing Michael in Billy Elliot in the West End when you were barely a teenager?
This is double the shows in half the time! Across a year in Billy Elliot, I probably averaged two to three performances a week as Michael so might have done 120 shows, or something like that, whereas here, of course, I’m on eight times a week.

Didn’t you have a now-famous co-star as one of your Billys?
Hah! Yes, I played opposite [Spider-Man star] Tom Holland, as Billy, every week, and, I mean, what has happened to him since then is brilliant. I’m over the moon for him that he is doing so well, which is at it should be; acting isn’t a competition.

After Billy, was it a done deal that you would continue acting into adulthood?
In fact, I joined a hip-hop dance group for quite a few years to make use of my dance background, and that could always have been an option for a career. But I thought, where my head is at the moment, I want to act, though you know how it is—you always want to do whatever it is that you’re not doing.

Did you have other jobs to pay the bills?
Before I went to drama school, I worked in lots of different roles in nightclubs, everything from music to entertainment to making sure the venue was right to all the deals and drinks and promotions. I know how to mix a drink!

What would you serve if Leonard Vole stepped up to the bar?
Leonard wouldn’t drink, though perhaps we could make a Life or Death cocktail. That could be a little side business.

Were there pointers in your early life that you think led to this point?
When I was a kid, I was really into horse riding and wanted to be a jockey. But it was doing Billy that changed all that. I’m from a family of 14 children [Cope is the 10th in the lineup.] So, I grew up listening to stories and telling stories—which is basically what acting is.

Fourteen? What happens if they all come to Witness on the same night?
That’s true: they could fill up the stalls [orchestra seats] with their partners and children: I’ve already got 14 nieces and nephews, and I can imagine it getting up to 40 by some point. But at the same time, the age range between us extends across 20 years, and I had my own room since I was 14.

Did the media in northeast England [where Cope is from] make a fuss about your family in the press, as can often be the way with large households?
We were always getting asked to be on this TV program or another, but we never went down that route. My parents saw the family as something private and didn’t want us to be some big social thing.

Are there any other actors among your siblings?
Just me. Five of them are boxers and my father is a boxing coach. But my mum was really good: she would let us try lots of different things.

How wonderful, by the way, is it that your Instagram page describes you as “very happy”?
Yeah, and I mean, why would you not be? Whatever you are doing, just enjoy it, that’s the main thing – whether working in a bar or playing Leonard Vole.