Dial M For Murder – Oxford Playhouse, Oxford
At this time of year there’s nothing like a good thriller to shake off winter blues and spoil yourself, particularly
when it’s a production that is stylish, slick, full of suspense and utterly gripping.
Lucy Bailey’s fine new touring production of Frederick Knott’s classic drama is exactly those things, beautifully designed by Mike Britton, with a dramatic blood-red set, stylised with translucent curtains and a clever revolving set that offers telling shifts of perspective, even the crucial telephone is ominous in it’s colouring.
Originally written for the stage by Frederick Knott Dial M For Murder was first seen in London in 1952, then made famous in the film version directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Grace Kelly.
It’s a brilliantly constructed mystery involving one man’s elaborate plot to kill his wife, while pinning the blame elsewhere.
Not so much a whodunnit but more of a will-he-get-away-with-it.
Kelly Hotten provides a thoroughly enjoyable performance as Sheila Wendice, the typical Hitchcock blonde and potential victim, she’s convincing and sympathetic despite her history of infidelity.
Daniel Betts is sharp and perfectly sinister as her husband Tony, with charm and menace in equal measures he makes for an excellent villain.
Robert Perkins plays the would-be-murderer Captain Lesgate with conviction.
Christopher Timothy is perfectly cast as the not-so-plodding Inspector Hubbard, with humour and class befitting of the period.
However I felt slightly let down by Philip Cairns as the lover Max, he plodded through his lines and lacked the charisma I would expected from a character who is ultimately meant to be the hero of the piece.
Overall the production is impeccable, with a moody jazz score that emphasises the tension and mystery of the plot. With continual twists and surprises it is a complex and elaborate plot that is far from predictable and like any good mystery there are tiny clues scattered throughout, leading to the denouement and allowing the investigation to be concluded.
The ‘murder’ scene is a masterpiece in itself, drawn out and utterly believable (unlike in the film where it was over in a matter of seconds.*)
The great thing about this being a very specific period piece is not only it’s style, but one thing that add to the tension of a 1950s setting is the key element of the plot, the fact that you could still be hanged for murder. Lives are in the balance in more ways than one and you really don’t have to kill someone to commit murder.
*It takes on average 3-4 minutes for someone to die from strangulation, depending of course on body size.