ON A bleak winter’s day, there’s nothing like a damned good thriller to raise the temperature; particularly when it’s played out, like Lucy Bailey’s fine new touring production of Frederick Knott’s classic drama, on a stylised blood-red set that succeeds both in providing a perfect setting for some smart modern postwar furniture, and in conjuring up the very fires of hell.
First seen in London in 1952, Dial M For Murder is a perfectly-constructed mystery involving one man’s labyrinthine plot to kill his wife, while pinning the blame elsewhere. Given the delicious complexity of the plot – not so much a whodunnit as a how-can-we-possibly-prove-it – the play necessarily touches lightly on the atmosphere of postwar England. Yet like some of the finest literature of the period, it powerfully evokes a society at once overwhelmingly complacent, and full of hidden tensions and violence.
In this thoughtful touring version, with a clever revolving set that offers telling shifts of perspective, Kelly Hotten turns in a thoroughly enjoyable performance as Sheila Wendice, the Hitchcock blonde and potential victim; Daniel Betts and Philip Cairns are sharp and convincing as her husband and lover respectively, with Christopher Timothy in outstanding form as the not-so-plodding Inspector Hubbard.
And although the production, with its slow fades and moody jazz between scenes, offers more false interval breaks than I can ever recall seeing at the King’s, its brisk and enthralling second half raises the tension to fever-pitch and sends its audience home not only thrilled, but thoroughly impressed and entertained.
Rating: * * * *