DIAL M FOR MURDER
by Frederick Knott
Directed by Ian Taylor
PADOS Theatre Group
Written by Frederick Knott in 1952, this version, directed by Ian Taylor, created the drama and suspense that was required, mainly through the sound and lighting.
The story focuses on the married couple, Tony and Sheila Wendice, seemingly happy and yet…when Sheila’s old paramour returns from New York and an unexpected face catches the attention of her husband, Tony Wendice sets into motion a chain of events that, whilst not going entirely to plan, results in murder and allows us to meet the affable, unflappable Detective Hubbard. From then on, we are never sure if it is a case of whodunit – or simply proving how.
In this small venue it is impossible to get to the bar area without walking through the set. However, this helps the audience immerse themselves into the acting space and get a feel for the time that the production is set. In this case the Workshop team produced a living space that was very much in keeping with the period. The set was very functional and represented a Maida Vale basement apartment, complete with French Windows and a hallway visible beyond the front door with a flight of stairs where a significant prop could be hidden. There was also a kitchen door, one to the bedroom and the step up to the front door and arch helped provide the set with depth. The attention to detail in both props and décor, with added props such as trophies and tennis pictures, helped establish the past and present life of the couple who lived here.
The lighting, designed by Rob Armstrong was effective in creating atmosphere, especially during the phone call section when Mrs Wendice answers the ringing phone while facing away from the French windows where a would-be murderer is waiting for their opportunity. There were many switch on and off of lights, usually done by an actor, during this play and most were very well timed. Though it seemed that in the later part of Act 2 the timings went a little awry but maybe this was only on the night I attended but it did not in any way detract from the flow of the play, or my enjoyment of it.
The director had obviously worked hard with his cast to create characters and had put in a lot of movement around the set to keep the play active. I understand that pauses in dialogue are used to heighten suspense, after all this is a thriller. In my opinion this did affect the pace of Act 1. However, pace did pick up during Act 2, especially when Inspector Hubbard entered the fray.
Sara Brockway (Sheila Wendice) played the accused wife well. The clipped accent was just as I remember from watching films of the period. There was a nice shift in characterisation from confident wife to confused accused. The burn from the intended murder weapon on the throat was a good addition to detail and it was very noticeable to the audience.
James Haslam (Tony Wendice), as the fading tennis star husband, was excellent. He also had a good accent that went well with his characterisation and there was great light and shade in his line delivery. Together with his expressions, the smirks were superb and relayed meaning, and pauses during dialogue delivery established a confident character full of conniving and menace as he plotted the murder of his wife.
Every murder needs a murderer and in steps Rob Livesey as Captain Lesgate (one of the many names he uses). The meeting scene between Wendice and himself was like a game of poker, each trying to work out who had the upper hand, the looks, the fencing dialogue all added to the suspense although the pauses between dialogue for all this to happen did mean that the pace of the scene slowed. However, it did mean that each man firmly established his character in the audience’s mind.
The crime writer Max Halliday, played by Jack Martin, spent time comforting the accused wife: after all, they were “friends”, though deeper emotions had been expressed in a letter. Jack played the part of the writer well. One could see him solving the case throughout the play.
Just when you think that Wendice has managed to get away with murder along comes Simon Fletcher, as Inspector Hubbard. It was at this point that the pace of the piece noticeably gathered momentum. The portrayal of the Inspector was controlled, confident and carried the audience to the conclusion, and that, at last, justice was served on the right person.
This play did entertain and had the audience gripped to the end.