Dial M For Murder – Review

February 19, 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Hitchcock without a Hitch

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Tues 18 – Sat 22 February 2014

A fascinating mix of naturalism and the dreamlike give this this touring production of the original play behind Hitchcock’s 1954 movie an added edge as it arrives at the King’s.

Daniel Betts as Tony Wendice and Kelly Hotten as Sheila Wendice. Photo ©  Manuel Harlan

Daniel Betts as Tony Wendice and Kelly Hotten as Sheila Wendice. Photo © Manuel Harlan

Would-be playboy Tony Wendice has married for money. Having found out wife Sheila has cheated on him with TV murder mystery writer Max Halliday, killing her and inheriting a wad of cash seems a good idea.

He hires an old school associate, Lesgate, to break in and murder Sheila, letting a night out with the clueless Max provide his alibi. Things don’t go according to plan, forcing tennis star Tony to serve up a new scheme. But he’s not reckoned with the besotted Max, and wily policeman Inspector Hubbard.

That’s the basic story of Frederick Knott’s stage play, which was filmed for the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954. Hitch didn’t change the plot, seeming more interested in what he could do with 3D effects.

Happily, this stage version, directed by Lucy Bailey, doesn’t try for any equivalent to the 3D – there are no giant phones waved at the audience, no massive foam rubber hands pretending to come out of the fourth wall. It helps, of course, that actors and set are already in 3D.

While the play requires just one room, and a little playing space behind it, designer Mike Britton’s set is a fascinating mix of naturalism and the dreamlike. The former comes from the 50s Maida Vale living room, the latter from the fact that it’s blazing with reds, reds that continue upwards long after the decor ends, taking our eyes to a diaphanous curtain on an upper revolve, which suggests psychological shading of characters even as it disguises rearrangements of scenery.

Images that instantly burn themselves into the brain
Kelly Hotten as Sheila Wendice. Photo ©  Manuel Harlan

Kelly Hotten as Sheila Wendice. Photo © Manuel Harlan

Both acts begin with Sheila – a perfectly fragile Kelly Hotten – alone and at the edge of the stage. The openings are something of a metaphor for her journey from housewife hoping to put an affair behind her, to a woman who can’t believe the nightmare life has become.

More, though, thanks to Chris Davey’s stark lighting design, they are images that instantly burn themselves into the brain, adding a sharp burst of drama to a play which in less skilful hands could be Dial P for Pedestrian. The chiaroscuro effect adds a touch of film noir, though given the dominant colour scheme, film rouge would be more appropriate.

The first half is a little slow at times with acres of exposition, but the highly watchable cast gets us through the longueurs. The lengthy, talky scenes that precede the fight-to-the-death between Sheila and Lesgate make it all the more exciting, and it’s a cracker to start with. I’ve rarely seen a stage fight so beautifully choreographed and played – there’s real tension as Lesgate throttles Sheila.

Kudos to fight director Philip d’Orleans for giving us a scene that disturbs as much as it thrills. And credit, too, to sound designer Mic Pool, whose startling notes jump out and grab the audience at all the right moments. There’s also a subtle soundtrack that weaves in and out of proceedings, always emphasising, never dominating the action.

Christopher Timothy puts in an assured performance as Inspector Hubbard who, with his doggedness and ‘one more thing’ lines, is something of a proto-Columbo. Timothy is the star name, but the star turn comes from Daniel Betts, who allows us to glimpse Tony’s fear at the possibility Sheila might leave him even as he’s playing the charming, confident husband. It’s a smart performance, one which becomes all the more compelling as Tony realises he’s going to have to improvise to save his skin.

Robert Perkins makes a big impression as Lesgate, whose Hampstead ways mask the heart of a killer. Philip Cairns’ Max is the nicest adulterer you ever did see, a ridiculously handsome puppy man; Cairns’ delivery, though, is stilted in the first half, with odd … pauses … in the middle of quite ordinary lines. I’m not sure if this is Pinteresque, but it’s certainly distracting. He’s much better in the second act, when we see the passion Max holds for Sheila.

The show closes on a perfectly judged note, one that sums up just how brilliant Dial M For Murder could be with just a little tightening up here and there. As it is, the production shows how a sharp treatment and some excellent performances can elevate a fairly mundane thriller into a great night out.

Running time 2hrs 15mins
Run ends Saturday 22 February 2014
7.30pm. Matinees Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Tickets from www.edtheatres.com/murder

Dial M For Murder on tour:

February 18-22 Edinburgh
King’s Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
February 25-March 1 Oxford
Playhouse
01865 305305 Book online
March 4- 8 Liverpool
Playhouse
01206 573948 Book online
March 18-22 Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book online
March 25-29 Bromley
Churchill
08448 717 620 Book online
April 1- 5 Richmond-upon-Thames
Richmond Theatre
0844 871 7651 Book online
April 8-12 Aylesbury
Waterside
0844 871 7607 Book online
April 15-19 Malvern
Malvern Theatre
01684 892 277 Book online
April 22-26 Nottingham
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555 Book online
April 29-May 3 Norwich
Theatre Royal
01603 63 00 00 Book online
May 6-10 Manchester
Opera House
0844 871 3018 Book online
May 13-17 Birmingham
Repertory
0121 236 4455 Book online
May 20-24 Guildford
Yvonne Arnaud
01483 44 00 00 Book online
May 27-31 Aberdeen
His Majesty’s
01224 641122 Book online
June 4- 7 Cardiff
New Theatre
029 2087 8889 Book online
June 10-14 Truro
Hall for Cornwall
01872 262466 Book online
June 17-21 Cambridge
Arts Theatre
01223 503333 Book online
June 24-28 Glasgow
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7647 Book online
Kelly Hotten as Sheila Wendice, Christopher Timothy as Inspector Hubbard, Daniel Betts as Tony Wendice and Philip Cairns as Max Halliday. Photo ©  Manuel Harlan

Kelly Hotten as Sheila Wendice, Christopher Timothy as Inspector Hubbard, Daniel Betts as Tony Wendice and Philip Cairns as Max Halliday. Photo © Manuel Harlan

ENDS

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