DIAL M FOR MURDER
by Frederick Knott
Directed by Garth Jones
Altrincham Little Theatre
Dial M for Murder, written by Frederick Knott in 1952 was, as many of us remember, adapted by Alfred Hitchcock as a screenplay of the same name. As with any thriller, the art of creating suspense is key, Hitchcock was a master at this. The director, David Garth, did a remarkable job of also creating suspense during the play. The inclusion of carefully chosen classical music, full of string instruments, heightened the tension during the murder scene, which I thought was very well handled and directed. I really couldn’t understand why there was laughter from the audience, unless it was nervous laughter. This play is a “Who dunnit?”
What makes this play different from many other murder mysteries is that we know from very early on what the plan is, and who is to be murdered, and by whom, but there is that twist that keeps you engaged. The author then goes further, and has the audience wondering how will the murder be solved?
The story centres around a happily married couple, or so it seems. Tony Wendice (Gary Woodhall) is happily married to Sheila (Charlie Welsh). However, Max Halliday (Ewan Henderson) Sheila’s “friend”, although we suspect he is more a lover, has returned from a year working in New York as a crime writer, only to discover that Sheila is being blackmailed by someone who is in the possession of a letter that Max sent to Sheila. We, the audience, assume that it is a letter containing a declaration of his love for her. Sheila pays the blackmailer so that this letter is not sent to her husband.
However, Tony knows all about it and is playing his own dastardly game. Tony bides his time and plots to murder his wife with the collusion of a former school associate, Captain Lesgate (Alex Clarke) who himself has a past that he would rather others were not made aware of. So, all is set for what Tony expects to be the carefully thought out planned murder, but when it all goes wrong there has to be quick thinking and have a change of plan. It is left to Chief Inspector Hubbard (Charlie Cook) to unpick the details and find the evidence and the motive before an innocent woman is hanged for murder.
The cast of five actors, plus a sixth voice from the dark, were all equally as strong and confident in their character portrayal. Charlie gave a performance that was very reminiscent of the type of acting and line delivery that one expects from a 1950s film with clipped words and phrases. There was a softness and innocence to her character that was endearing.
Ewan created the impression that there was more than friendship between his character and that of Sheila by the intonation of his line delivery and expressions when interacting with her. He effectively built the anguish and concern for her during Act 2.
Gary Woodhall played an understated callous, calculating, manipulative husband. There were no histrionics; he left the audience in no doubt about his plan, his reasoning and what his life was going to be like after the murder.
Alex Clarke, who is new to the society, calmly and confidently established his character of Captain Lesgate, one who has a shady past with many former identities. He ensured that key aspects of dialogue were pointedly stated such as, “murdering your wife”, so that the audience was in no doubt about what was to happen.
Charlie Cook created the affable, likeable, gentle policeman who describes the events to the audience as he goes along, rather than the big reveal at the end, as many Agatha Christie novels do.
Not only should the actors be congratulated on creating a super evening’s entertainment but the backstage people also. The set and properties, designed by Alan Reidsma and resourced by Charles Thomas, were excellent – creating the impression of a reasonably wealthy couple’s living room of the period, complete with dial phone, standard lamp and the glow of a fire in the hearth. The painted panelling was superb and gave texture to what we saw, and the brick wall beyond the patio doors created an impression of depth and perspective. The lighting and sound plots, devised by Steve Smith and Vicky Jackson, were spot on throughout creating the right mood for the play and engaging the audience.
Garth Jones said in his introduction that, “With a thriller we must try Suspense, Suspense!” Was this achieved? In my opinion the answer is a resounding YES!
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the evening and especially to Meg and the society for their hospitality.