Review: Dial M For Murder, by Frederick Knott, Colchester Mercury, until February 15

Christopher Timothy as Inspector Hubbard in Dial M For Murder at the Colchester Mercury

Christopher Timothy as Inspector Hubbard in Dial M For Murder at the Colchester Mercury - Credit: Archant

Most of us know Dial M For Murder from Alfred Hitchcock’s suspenseful 1954 film starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland.

Philip Cairns as Max Halliday, Daniel Betts as Tony Wendice and Kelly Hotten as Sheila Wendice in Di

Philip Cairns as Max Halliday, Daniel Betts as Tony Wendice and Kelly Hotten as Sheila Wendice in Dial M For Murder at the Colchester Mercury - Credit: Archant

Wisely, Hitch resisted the temptation to open the play out when transferring the action to the screen knowing that a lot of the tension and drama came from the claustrophobia created by the single room setting of Sheila and Tony Wendice’s London flat.

Lucy Bailey, director of the current stage revival, takes a similar view and goes one step further by making their 1950s apartment even more austere by having no windows or wall decorations at all.

The set is a box room with a front door set in an, at times, translucent back wall which reveals, at key moments, a staircase leading to an upper floor.

The furniture is modern, functional, post-war desk, chairs and sofa along with a chic sliding silk curtain. No doubt they were all the rage at the time.


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It paints a picture of a reasonably wealthy, socially mobile young couple. He is a former tennis star, now working in sales, while she has recently come into some family money.

However, there are secrets. There are always secrets when murder is involved.

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Bailey directs the play steadily and deliberately to build up the tension but this results in a slow and, at times, wearily wordy first act.

Things pick up immeasurably with the arrival of Christopher Timothy’s Inspector Hubbard who immediately injects some much needed pace into the proceedings.

The joy of Dial M is found in the fact that the story is very well constructed. It is one of those rare thrillers where all the elements of the plot actually do add up and make sense once the inspector has figured everything out and joins up the dots.

Kelly Hotten makes for a very strong and believable Sheila Wendice and she works well in her scenes with Philip Cairns as the rather earnest television writer Max Halliday.

Lucy Bailey has created a stark, enclosed world in which to execute this murder and there are many great ideas brought to the staging but the play itself needs a strong sense of reality to make it work.

This version tried for a stylised Brechtian approach. It was trying to make us aware we were watching a play and this meant that we weren’t always connecting with what was happening on stage.

This was distressingly apparent in the crucial murder scene. Delivered in stylised fashion, with recorded sound effects, it drew nervous laughter from some parts of the auditorium which is never good.

Dial M For Murder has a lot going for it as a play but it needs zip and the characters and the situation have to be dangerously real for us to be truly on the edge of our seats.

Andrew Clarke

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