DramaReviewSouth East

Dial M for Murder – Theatre Royal, Norwich

Reviewer: Lu Greer

Writer: Frederick Knott

Director: Anthony Banks

Based on Frederick Knott’s stage and screenplay and, of course, made famous by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954, Dial M for Murder tells the story of Tony Wendice (Tom Chambers) the ex-tennis pro whom upon discovering his wife has been unfaithful sets off to plot and commit the perfect crime to exact his revenge. Full of twists and turns as Tony begins to wrap himself up in a more and more convoluted plan, Dial M for Murder is considered by many to be the blueprint of the classic crime thriller, but the question must surely be; does this adaptation stand the test of time?

This incarnation of the show has tried to update itself by moving the action from its classic 50s setting to the swinging 1960s; a choice which, unfortunately, doesn’t really pay off. It is a setting which is much too far in the past to make it any more accessible to a modern audience while losing the distinctive imagery of the 50s noir. The performers, working against this setting, do bring their characters to life with Tom Chambers’ charismatic and manipulative version of Tony the retired tennis player drawing the audience into the plot despite it being rather convoluted and full of exposition throughout the first act. During the second act, with the appearance of Inspector Hubbard (Christopher Harper), the pace of the show picks up with the cat and mouse game of the arrogant murder and astute inspector chasing across the stage. The problem that continues to hamper the performance though, is the choice of setting the entirety of the action in Tony and Margot’s (Sally Bretton) garden flat which results is the dialogue trying to simply report the majority of the plot instead of the audience watching it.

The staging, however, is exceptional. While the choice of the 60s doesn’t necessarily work, the way in which it is brought to life by David Woodhead is outstanding. The flat is understated and the use of daylight and general sounds of everyday life are so masterfully done that it is very easy to forget that it is all occurring on a stage with each light and shadow being carefully planned.

Overall, while the play is painfully exposition-heavy, there is plenty of potential in the gripping narrative and the cast bring to life their characters in compelling ways, but it still feels as though there is something missing from the show. The classic noir dialogue is there, but moving the show to a different setting and containing it in one room while trying to maintain the classic shadowy mood of the era puts everything slightly off-kilter, and loses the soul of noir that should bring a classic such as this to life.

Runs until Saturday 25 January 2020

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