Dial M for an interesting look at the macabre
- Credit: Supplied by Cambridge Arts Theatre
Angela Singer reviews Dial M for Murder at Cambridge Arts Theatre.
The plot of Dial M for Murder is chilling but this production is enhanced by humour.
Between them, Tom Chambers and Christopher Harper, with their lightness of touch, awaken something that might be awfully tired in other hands. Or possibly just grim.
Diana Vickers also gives us an excellent demise – especially as the death turns out not to be hers.
This version, set in 1963, opens with evocative 1960s music as the audience waits for the play to start: How High the Moon, Lazy Sunny Afternoon, I Only Have Eyes for You as we take in an inspired 1960s set by David Woodhead, complete with a bookcase with LP records, a spider plant – and geometric curtain fabric and furniture that is back in fashion now and all over John Lewis.
The flat is inviting with sunlight flowing through the French windows.
Dial M for Murder is best known as a Hitchcock film released in 1954. It began as a play two years earlier.
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Turned down by most theatres, it was put on by the BBC as part of a series called Sunday Night Theatre.
After that it reached the West End and Broadway.
The author, Frederick Knott, wrote both the original script and the movie’s screenplay.
At the time of the play and the film, phone numbers included letters as well as figures so people did indeed dial M.
It’s not so much a whodunit. The audience knows the truth. The question is will the authorities find out before they hang an innocent person?
Chambers’ character Tony Wendice has found out that his wife Margot is having an affair and decides to have her killed and inherit her fortune.
He blackmails an old school friend, Captain Lesgate, into entering their flat in Maida Vale one night and strangling her while Wendice is out – creating his alibi.
Wendice has left a hidden key for Lesgate to enter the flat. Lesgate will wait behind the designer curtains, until Wendice phones late at night, as Margot comes out of the bedroom to answer the call, Lesgate will emerge from his hiding place and attack her from behind.
But neither Wendice nor Lesgate has reckoned with Margot’s determination to survive. She defends herself and instead kills Lesgate.
Wendice, his plan in ruins, must now convince the police that she was being blackmailed over her affair, lured the blackmailer to the flat and killed him.
Meanwhile Margot’s lover, Max Halliday, a writer (played by Michael Salami) tries to convince the constabulary of a different story that he has invented to save her – curiously close to what has actually happened.
The energy of the piece is driven by Tom Chambers as a neurotic and twitchy Wendice, whose facial expressions share with the audience his frustration, and Christopher Harper who gives a virtuoso performance as both the thwarted murderer, Captain Lesgate, and the wily police officer, Inspector Hubbard.
Chambers and Harper’s comic timing save the play from being a mere curiosity.
The subject matter is macabre – but then people will expect that if they are going to see a plot that excited Alfred Hitchcock.
The set and the costumes are pleasing and the performances are elegant. An interesting evening.
Dial M for Murder can be seen at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, October 9. Visit www.cambridgeartstheatre.com to book tickets.