dial m top

Terry Dwyer who plays the only female member of the cast, Sheila Wendice

Dial M For Murder  

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton 

AS murder mysteries go, Frederick Knott’s 1952 stylish play rates pretty well against the more well-known offerings of a certain Miss Christie.  

Hitchcock certainly saw its potential.  His classic Hollywood adaptation ensured there would be box office life in subsequent stage versions and nearly 70 years on, the appeal continues.  As an example of its genre, it simply works and does exactly what it says on the tin. Sometimes, if it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it.  

Like most plays of this type, the plot is somewhat contrived and wouldn't stand up to close scrutiny. But that’s fine.   It’s not alone there.  For it to engage an audience, it has to present a series of plot twists that offer possibilities as to ‘whodunit?’  … or, in this case, ‘who will get the blame for it?’

Knott knows exactly what works.  The exposition is cleverly layered and never gives away too much, too soon.  He also resists the temptation to be over complex 

Talking Scarlet’s effective adaptation stays loyal to the period and avoids any urge to modernise the feel of the work.  It may come across as melodrama but in the early 1950s, before the onset of kitchen sink drama, this was how dialogue was presented.  It has to be played straight for it to work and that is certainly recognised here.  

What matters most, of course, is the plot.  It needs to be clever enough not to give too much away but also clear enough to keep the audience interested.  We need to engage with characters and even care for them if needs be.  Good writing sets this up but performances have to complete the picture for the piece to come properly alive.  

Oliver Mellor is controlled and nicely measured as the plotting ex-tennis pro, Tony Wendice.  Whilst there are more holes than a dartboard in Wendice’s dastardly plan, Mellor plays the dialogue with impressive conviction and never drops energy throughout some pretty lengthy speeches.  

A strong ensemble cast keep the tension going and all add clever touches to characters that could easily become stereotypical in different hands.  

Time passages are achieved using ‘filmic’ music that gives a clear nod to Hitchcock.  With the right music, suspense is significantly heightened.  Director, Patric Kearns, clearly recognises that here.  

This is a strong and engaging version of a classic piece of work. If you liked the film, you will like this.  If you haven't seen it, take the opportunity now. Runs until 30th April.

Tom Roberts

26-04-16 

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