Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Dial M for Murder - Theatre Royal, Brighton

Dial M for Murder
Writer: Frederick Knott
Director: Lucy Bailey
Designer: Mike Britton
Reviewer: Bill Avenell

Perhaps surprisingly, because of my age and the reputation of the work, I have never seen Hitchcock’s famous film of this play by Frederick Knott.

Although made world famous by Hitchcock, this piece started life as a popular BBC ‘Play of the Week’ and a successful West End production and Lucy Bailey’s direction remains true to its mid 20th century stage origins.

How much better as a theatrical device is the old fashioned telephone compared to the mobile? A ‘we know whodunnit’ (from pretty early on at least) rather than the MIdsommer Murders variety, the play contains a number of really clever twists and, as Hitchcock obviously foresaw, is capable of keeping the audience in suspense even though they really know what is going to happen. Would Tony come in by the window at the end? I was desperately hoping he wouldn’t but…

Apparently written as a one room piece, Mike Britton’s set manages to include just the right amount of detail to portray the setting while creating an undercurrent of menace incorporating a sinister flowing curtain and an intriguing ‘now you see it now you don’t’ back wall which really helps in the denouement. I feel that the rotating stage is confusing rather insightful but perhaps it adds to the suspense. The clever (red changing to white) lighting set of Chris Davey and the atmospheric music from Mic Pool, including that barely audible but insinuating high pitched tone as crises approach, make the whole production an ideal back drop for the actors and I was amazed at the end of the play to find that the I had been watching a cast that was only 5 strong. All down to the set and the use of that phone again.

Although the programme tries to tell me otherwise, I feel that the strength of the piece is in the plot rather than the characterization, but Richard Lintern as the scheming Tony Wendice gives a well balanced performance moving believably from smooth sophistication to outbursts of petulance and maintaining a real undertone of menace. Des McAteer ,as the inspector , stays just the right side of the plodding copper role he could easily have portrayed and Daniel Hill, Nick Fletcher and Aislin McGuckin give able support to ensure that there isn’t a weak performance in the show.

The Theatre Royal has a really genuine feel to it, complete with wonderful ceiling, and if the ‘hum’ of the audience in the interval and again queuing up at the pay station in the car park afterwards(park in Church Street NCP and get a discount in the Theatre foyer) was anything to go by, I was not the only one who had a really good evening.
I must get out the DVD and see whether Hitchcock makes as good a job of it as Lucy Bailey and her cast.

Photos: Manuel Harlan
Runs until Sat 21st of Nov
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