Dial M For Murder (King’s Theatre: 18 – 22 Feb ’14)

Dial M For Murder

Photo: Manuel Harlan

“Everything about the production is carefully crafted to cast you back to a bygone age.”

Editorial Rating: Nae Bad

Here’s a piece of trivia you might not know: before it got the Hitchcock treatment, Dial M For Murder was already a popular West End play.  This elegant revival is keenly aware of that heritage, displaying an impressive attention to detail as it recreates the story’s post-war milieu.  Everything about the production – furniture, costumes, sounds – is carefully crafted to cast you back to a bygone age: a time when phones made funny clicking noises, men sank brandies before hopping in their cars, and everybody wore their waistbands astonishingly high.

The script’s distinctly old-fashioned too, especially in the opening scene, where the characters plonk themselves down on sofas to reminisce about the back-story.  But Mike Britton’s striking set design lends the production some stripped-down modern flair: an iconic bright-red telephone is matched by a looming bright-red curtain, behind which the titular murderer duly hides.  Hanging from a circular rail, the curtain creepily rotates all round the set – a constant reminder of the blood that’s been shed, and of one particular character’s all-too-obvious guilt.

The stage rotates as well – a creative approach to what could have been a very static play, though the overall effect is sometimes more disorientating than it is disturbing.  A few shifts in tone are confusing too: the protracted murder scene feels wilfully overblown, in curious contrast to the generally slow-burning mood.  But there can be no reservations about Mic Pool’s eerie soundscape, whose portentous jazz riffs have the power to make even an empty room utterly enthralling.

Christopher Timothy – well-known for his TV roles – offers a reassuring presence in the form of Inspector Hubbard, melding the homely normality you might find in Midsomer Murders with an unexpected hard-nosed urgency in the later scenes.  The role doesn’t offer him many opportunities to stand out, but it’s a finely-nuanced performance which does much to anchor the rest of the play.  The acting honours, however, truly belong to Daniel Betts, whose villainous Tony Wendice is a masterpiece of smooth malevolence.  Betts’ performance is as sleek and oily as his swept-back, Brylcreemed hair.

If the truth be told, Frederick Knott’s 60-year-old script isn’t quite as masterful as you might have been expecting, and a few of its crucial plot points defy rational analysis.  But as long as you don’t think too hard about it, you’ll find this a comfortingly faithful production – which is slow out of the starting blocks, but accelerates smoothly towards an exciting, brain-teasing conclusion.  It may not be Hitchcock, but it’s a good solid play.  Dial K for King’s and book your ticket now.

nae bad_blue

Reviewer: Richard Stamp (Seen 18 February)

Find information and book tickets here.