A true classic, this latest production of Frederick Knott’s “Dial M for Murder” will have audiences hanging on every word as the tension builds and the stakes rise ever higher. Moments of laughter balance the tone perfectly, producing a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying work of theatre.
The story follows jaded ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice (Tom Chambers) as he schemes his revenge upon his unfaithful wife Margot (Diana Vickers). Enlisting the help of an old school acquaintance Captain Lesgate (Christopher Harper), he pursues the perfect crime while his wife’s lover and TV-crime-writer Max Halliday (Michael Salami) seems poised to unravel it all.
Many will be familiar with the Alfred Hitchcock 1954 film adaptation, and fans will almost certainly enjoy the original source even without the striking cinematography. Despite taking place entirely in the confines of the Wendice’s flat, the clever staging gives an openness and room for each character to breathe and move through the wordiness of the script. And it is wordy; certainly at the start it feels a little slow and heavy, but as the actors get into the flow it feels more and more natural as the play goes on. The lighting design is notable, with cast shadows becoming focal points and moments almost echoing the chiaroscuro aesthetic of Hitchcock’s film. There is excellent use of music and lighting combined to signify the passage of time at key moments in the play, and the effect is artfully achieved.
Tom Chambers gives a truly excellent performance as manipulative, charismatic Tony, and his conspiratorial winks to the audience have a way of making him seem like the character to root for. His physicality is engaging and amusing, while he snappily delivers his lines as if in a verbal tennis match with his opponents. However Christopher Harper hits right back and steals the show in the second act as a plucky inspector, bringing a contrasting energy and light-hearted eagerness to solve the puzzle; at times almost jarring with the invested seriousness of the other cast members, but entirely refreshing. Michael Salami also comes into his own in the second act as he is allowed to get into the meat of his character and his passion. Sadly Diana Vickers is never afforded the same opportunity. While she is entirely believable as an easily-led would-be murder victim, the character feels limp and two-dimensional compared to the men on stage; perhaps an unfortunate symptom of a play written in the 1950s.
All in all this makes for a great evening of theatre that should appeal to most. Still early in its tour, Dial M for Murder continues at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn until the 11th of September, and will then travel to Liverpool, Bromley, Mold, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Sheffield, Milton Keynes, Cardiff, Southend-on-Sea, Salford, and Malvern.