Dial M for Murder

Frederick Knott

Simon Friend Entertainment

Theatr Clwyd

September 29-October 2, 2021; 1hr 50min

Also at the Lowry, Salford, November 15-20, 2021


Tom Chambers as the villain of the piece in Dial M for Murder
Tom Chambers as the bad, bad husband in Dial M for Murder. All pics: Manuel Harlan

Who doesn’t immediately think of the Hitchcock movie of this familiar throwback to early thrillers?

In fact Frederick Knott’s story first appeared as a BBC TV play in the 1950s, before it became a smash hit in the West End and on Broadway. It’s success led to the film, in which Ray Milland was notoriously unpleasant to Grace Kelly, the swine. It was, if nothing else, a prime example of how Hitchcock grabbed an audience’s attention from the start, and didn’t let go.

The programme makes a point of establishing the play as a psychological thriller alongside the likes of An Inspector Calls, Sleuth and Deathtrap. It doesn’t really live up to that billing, though it certainly develops suspense and drama – despite being heavily dependent on dialogue. I would, however, have liked to see leading man Tom Chambers (Top Hat, Strictly Come Dancing ) be more sinister and manipulative, and for his dear-departing wife Margot (Diana Vickers, recording artist, West End star of Little Voice and an X-Factor finalist), to be more obviously vulnerable and victimised.

This production is set in the 1960s and uses a person of colour as Margot’s love interest; interesting, as it gave an opportunity for the inspector, nicely played by Christopher Harper, to do his job while exhibiting some of the period’s overt racism. One oddity is the use of a 1980s Phil Collins track as a backdrop to the trial verdict: it's a little out of step with the rest.

The play makes use of observational humour, with several comic moments – which suggest director Anthony Banks felt he had to make obvious the possibility that no one would really take the plot seriously in such a period piece.

Though the evening starts a little slowly, the production becomes better as the plot develops, and overall the experience is a pleasant one – though I found myself identifying more with the inspector (Christopher Harper) than with either hero or villain, probably not the original intention of the play.

The drama remains a well-acted, well-worked script that builds suspense as it progresses towards a fitting denouement.