Dial M for Murder was originally written by Frederick Knott and appeared both as a BBC television play and theatrical stage play in 1952. Many people, however, will probably know the story from the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film version starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly.
The story is one of a jealous husband who has been following his wife for some time and intercepted letters from her lover. He has also stolen the one letter that she carefully kept and pretended to be a blackmailer who has the letter. When the wife's lover turns up again in their life (neither the wife nor the other man are aware that the husband knows), he sets a chain of events in place that involve blackmailing an old school aquaintance into killing his wife. The murder, however, goes wrong as his wife fights off her attacker's attempts to strangle her alone in her home and the wife kills her attacker in self defence. The play then goes on to take some very clever twists and turns and to be fair to anyone who has not seen the play before or the film, I am not going to tell you what happens next....go and find out for yourself.
This adaptation of the play is a very simple one room setting and involves only five characters as follows
Tony Wendice played by Daniel Betts, Sheila Wendice played by Kelly Hotten, Max Halliday played by Philip Cairns, Captain Lesgate played by Robert Perkins and Inspector Hubbard played by Christopher Timothy.
All of the above actors put in a wonderful performance and manage to pull the audience right into their world. There was hardly a sound from the audience throughout the whole performance, apart from the actual murder scene which caused a few shrieks from people. Everybody was simply pulled right into the story. This is a perfect example of a play at its best; a great story and people who know how to deliver that story to an audience.
The story was also helped by careful attention to the period room setting and costume details. Using original period furniture made the setting even more believable. The room setting moved position when required on a moving circular stage that avoided the need for any obvious movements on stage that would have interrupted the atmosphere of the room. A very simple and clever device of red curtain moving on a circular path above everyone between scenes was just so simple but effective. The choice of not updating the storyline and keeping it firmly in its original 1950s setting kept everything authentic.
If you want to see a rare occasion when everything works in a theatre and story, acting, directing, settings and lighting come together then go and see this play. This is a master class in how to do it right.
Review by Tom King