DIAL M FOR MURDER
by Frederick Knott
directed by Mark Storton
As it was written in 1952, I did wonder whether if this play had weathered the passage of time. Judging by this superb Garrick production, the answer is a resounding, “yes”.
Ex-tennis professional player, Tony Wendice (Gary Leonard) wants to have his wealthy wife, Sheila (Hannah Rigby), murdered so he can get his hands on her inheritance. When he discovers her affair with Max Halliday (Michael Whewell), he comes up with the perfect plan to kill her. Tony blackmails an old acquaintance, Captain Lesgate (Giles Williams), into carrying out the murder, but the carefully orchestrated set-up goes awry.
On a well-designed set, the ground floor apartment was tastefully appointed with Chesterfield settee DSL. Large desk SR. USR French windows led to the garden area. CSR was the door leading to the apartment vestibule, with the stairs to the upper floor visible. USR a door leading to the bedroom and DSR the entrance to the kitchen. Two bookcases either side of the upstage door contained silver trophies and photographs in one, and various drinks with glasses and bottle in the other.
With the minimum of furniture on stage, there was ample room for the performers to move around, and the space also enabled the clever lighting plot to highlight the action at various points.
Gary Leonard was superb as Tony, plotting, then quickly having to think on his feet when his carefully laid plans were questioned by Giles Williams as his acquaintance, Captain Lesgate. Tony had been planning various ways to murder his wife after establishing that she had had, or was having an affair with Max Halliday. He had found various correspondence between Max and his wife, but she had burned all but one of the letters that had been exchanged. This saved letter was to be a crucial part of his plan to create an alibi. He also used this knowledge to send blackmail letters to his wife in order to confirm what he already knew.
It was the thought of his wife leaving him that prompted him to make sure he inherited her wealth, which if he murdered her, he would not be able to but if someone else were to do it ……….!
As a result of listening to Tony talking to him, we learnt that Captain Lesgate was in dire straits financially, was defrauding landladies and defaulting on borrowings. This proved to be the ideal setting to be blackmailed into committing the perfect murder. This was an excellent portrayal by Giles of a man, down on his luck, and who balked at becoming a murderer but eventually being persuaded by a smooth-tongued plotter. I was impressed with the way he liked the idea at first, then thinking about it, then the consequences of getting caught, backing off but then greed for money finally overcoming his scruples.
The interplay between Hannah, as Sheila, and Michael Whewell, as Max, a script writer, was beautifully understated, especially at the opening of the play when they were worried about their affair being noticed by her husband. Hannah never let her posh accent falter and was always impeccably dressed in beautiful clothes of the period. The night scene when the phone rang was excellent. I must compliment the lighting plot here. It was very atmospheric and the light shining from the bedroom to the telephone was just right.
Michael Whewell was the smooth television film script writer, as he said, “murdering 52 people since the last time I saw you” indicating he had been away from England for a year, writing for an American crime drama series. His bewilderment was well observed when questioned by the police inspector later in the play.
Kenny Entwistle played the role of Inspector Hubbard from Scotland Yard with a smoothness that indicated he was firmly in charge of any investigation that was underway, and that he knew more than he was prepared to say. There was an underlying feeling of menace in his tone when underlying the methods by which the murder had taken place.
Jamie Gane played the walk-on role of the plain-clothes Policeman, and as the voice off-stage.
Rather than trying to update the play, Mark Storton, the director had very cleverly created a very 1950s nostalgic trip down memory lane with the pre-show music choices, the costumes, furniture and properties, and, more importantly, the style of acting and delivery of lines.
None of this would have been possible without the dedication of the technical members of the Garrick and a very skilled team of performers. The sound and lighting were all on cue and both evoked a feeling of the 50s.
The costumes were excellent and the properties absolutely right for the period.
Today’s audiences are more used to the quick fire, forensic skills of modern police methods. But this throwback to the 1950s was a welcome reminder of a period that was much less frantic.