Dial M for Murder, King's Theatre, Feb 2014, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Fiery Angel, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Colchester Mercury Theatre
Lucy Bailey (director), Mike Britton (designer), Chris Davey (Lighting), Mic Pool (Sound), Philip d'Orleans (Fight Director)
Kelly Hotten (Sheila), Philip Cairns (Max), Daniel Betts (Tony), Robert Perkins (Lesgate), Christopher Timothy (Hubbard)
Running time

Alfred Hitchcock's movie adaptation of Dial M for Murder (1954) remains a stylish period classic by the Master of Suspense. The brilliant, brutal remake, “A Perfect Murder” set in 1990s New York, illustrates again the well crafted, chilling narrative of the original stage play.

Like the Queen of Crime Agatha Christie, Frederick Knott devised a flawlessly conceived murder plot with realistic situations, believable characters and a tangle of twists, turns and complex clues.

This is not a whodunit but like the Columbo TV series we know the identity of the culprit; it is up to Inspector Hubbard to unravel the truth and the proof.

The drama is set in Maida Vale, London in the early 1950s, the home of former Tennis Pro, Tony Wendice and his wife Sheila whom he suspects is having an affair with an American mystery writer, Max Halliday. Through jealousy and also eager to inherit her wealth, he is about to set a devious plan in motion to murder her.

The minimalist drawing room reflects the vintage décor, sofa, lamps, desk, drinks’ cabinet with the front door well placed in the centre. Blood-red lighting, a swirling, transparent crimson curtain, sound effects and free flowing jazz score all add to a menacing undertone.

In the role of Sheila, Kelly Hutton, dressed in a purple silk frock, is effortlessly glamorous epitomising the youthful elegance of Grace Kelly in the Hitchcock film.

Unfortunately, she is not well partnered by Philip Cairns as her lover Max. He plays the novelist with a Scottish accent - nothing wrong in a change of nationality per se. But Mr Cairns’ delivery of lines is punctuated with curious pauses and mid sentence breaths; his acting style is amateur in the extreme with poor characterisation.

There is little emotional connection between the couple and one would not believe that this sophisticated lady would fall in love with him.

In contrast, Daniel Betts plays her debonair husband Tony with polished panache dressed for dinner in black tie and DJ, pouring the cocktails while masking his hidden evil persona of blackmailing killer.

And so the tension slowly builds up as we prepare for the expected murder! But instead of a short, sharp attack, the Fight Director has created a prolonged, choreographed “dance” as the entwined couple almost waltz across the room, falling to the floor in an awkward tumble.

Instead of being shocked, the audience simply laughs at this melodramatic scene.

Arriving at the house is Inspector Hubbard, his calm manner and gentlemanly charm captured perfectly by Christopher Timothy. Like Sherlock Holmes, he observes, questions and ponders with quiet, methodical intelligence.

There is a good deal to admire about the production – period setting, mannerisms, subtle music, lighting and iconic soundtrack of a ringing telephone. Whether you know the storyline well or not at all, we are kept intrigued by how it will all be resolved.

First staged at the Yorkshire Playhouse in 2009, Lucy Bailey redirects this revival for an extended UK tour.

There are a few strange directorial decisions: why is there a revolving stage, which adds nothing to the dramatic mood? How is Sheila able to enter the flat from the street through the bedroom, even though Hubbard had confirmed that the intruder could not gain access this way?

Knott’s three act play is divided here into two acts. When the lights dim after the murder it clearly appears to be the interval, but this is just a scene changing pause. Act II could perhaps start with the police investigation for a more evenly balanced structure.

The overall verdict? This production does not actually murder the spirit of such a classic thriller, but lacking true emotion and dramatic suspense, it does not get away with it.

Show times

18 - 22 February, 2014

UK tour dates: