Dial M for Murder, Theatre Royal, Bath

THE highly-polished sophistication that can be seen on every inch of film in Alfred Hitchcock’s screen version of Frederick Knott’s expertly contrived thriller may not be fully replicated in this production, but under tight dir­ec­tion from Anthony Banks there is still plenty of tension and thrills on view for the audience to enjoy.

For those who have seen the film starring Grace Kelly, Ray Milland and Robert Cummings, there is nothing to hide, but in fairness to those who come to this production without previous knowledge of the plot, I will not delve too deeply into the storyline.

Sufficient to say that in amongst the treachery and blackmail, there is an attempt to murder the wealthy Margot Wendice before she is charged with killing her assailant, resulting in attempts to prove her innocence, or guilt.

Just five characters are all that are required to draw all these tautly written skeins together ­­– Margot, the wife, Tony her newly-retired top tennis player. Max, a script­writer returning after a spell in the USA, and former lover of Margot, the very dubious cashiered Captain Lesgate, and far from your usual PC Plod of a policeman, Inspector Hubbard.

The decision to have the roles of Captain Lesgate and the Inspector played by one actor set Christopher Harper a tricky task which he solved physically very easily, and vocally by equipping the former with a public school accent and the later with one that came from north of Birmingham. The problem in taking this course was that much of the lovely urbane humour which Frederick Knott has given to the Inspector failed to materialise, replaced by rather dour practicality. When it came to building the tension for the final moments the Inspector was well on top of the situation.

David Woodhead’s set, a fine quality, nicely furnished, London flat, and costumes moved the period a little forward, the original production was in 1952, but apart from a couple of lines referring to the amount of money Tony could gain from playing tennis, did not upset the characters or plot in any way. These people looked completely at home in these surroundings.

It was natural therefore for Sally Bretton’s neatly drawn Margot, used to a comfortable sheltered existence, to be frightened and confused when attacked, and unable to mount a reasonable defence when accused of murder.

She was a easy target for Tom Chambers’ quick-witted plotting husband Tony, as was Michael Salami’s quick- to-anger writer and would-be lover, Max.

Although I missed the suave elegance of the Hitchcock version, it has to be said that this cast worked well together as a team, their sharp incisive qualities fitting the setting and direction admirably, probably better than a smoother, quieter approach would have.

This is a fine example of a tense thriller, many of which are written, but few of which have the quality and style of Dial M for Murder.


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