An English grad and a Film grad walk into a theatre…
I decided to take my partner to a seemingly straightforward murder mystery play, Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder, as we both have an interest in theatre and the abnormal.
After the final bow it became apparent that we both had opposing views on various aspects of the show and I thought it would be handy to see both our hot takes so you can make your own decision.
The story follows the life of a husband, his wife and her sort of ex-lover and centres around, you guessed it, a murderous plan. What’s not to love?
We entered to the sound of soft 60’s rock music and were able to assess the scene carefully crafted on stage before things kicked off. I thought the set was so intriguing I had to point out individual objects to discuss how they would play into the plot. You could see a living room, with a kitchen attached where actors would disappear to grab imaginary objects. A garden was also shown to the side and beyond the door at the back was a hallway and stairs. How David Woodhead, the set and costume designer, managed to organise all that on stage is beyond me.
One sticking point for us was the table and couch at the centre of the stage, which caused blockage between the actors and the audience, but I believe it was a small price to play for realism. I imagined us acting as a fly on the wall, watching the characters dance around the telephone centre stage, looking into what goes on behind closed doors, (and apparently in this flat a lot).
Sally Breton played Margot Wendice dutifully and I found Tom Chambers’ portrayal of the jealous husband quite fun to watch. I think we both agreed that the show played like a tv drama and from researching where the actors have previously played it’s easy to understand why.
There was some crazy use of lighting that left me very impressed. The use of TV static playing on Margot’s face, the garden lighting changing from day to night that made me forget I was sitting in a packed theatre.
All in all, I found it an enjoyable and a faithful adaption to the original script. It was easy to follow, which I highly rate as I delve more and more into the world of theatre, and as an ex Drama student, I could forgive and enjoy the over-the top animation the actors put into their lines.
I had a wonderful night, all things considered. The baroque theatre hall, an impossibly charming date, the promise of entertainment had me in the perfect mood to be pulled into director Anthony Bank’s world.
Beginnings are so important, and this started not with a whimper but with something akin to receiving an awkward one-liner at a bar. There was an instant, jarring contrast between a very impressive and realistic looking set, and the cranked up to eleven frequency of the acting. It felt oddly cartoonish and turned all the characters into overly keen parents at a birthday party.
This was only exacerbated by the sound issue. The decision had been made not to mic up the actors, and perhaps the acoustics of the hall hadn’t supported this decision. So much so that the opening reminded me of that scene from Singing in the Rain with Lena Lamont, only grabbing snippets of inflated dialogue as she sways this way and that.
It got better though…as soon as Mr Plot had set up some dramatic irony, and the characters slipped into something more sinister, the heightened style felt more at home.
The comedy began to hit more often than it missed too, perhaps mostly thanks to the introduction of Christopher Harper’s character, Inspector Hubbard, who the other actors, especially Michael Salami, as Max Halliday, bounced off of.
Even if there were times when the play practically stood for a minute’s silence at every knowing wink to the audience, wobbling over a pit of pure panto, I still found myself more and more instep as it went on.
The latter half also became more aesthetically playful, with some musical injections and a fun David Lynch-esque moment with the TV (complete with strobing lights and signature static). I wondered, if these devices had been more upfront, would it have set up the general tone better?
I’m assuming the intention was to portray a more stable sense of normality before the notion of a murder is brought into play, shattering that dimension. But then maybe the acting style should also reflect that intention? Especially considering that they chose the swinging 60’s to set this well-known tale, it seemed more concerned with the impressive costumes and decor than really embracing what could be done with that time period.
Catch Dial M For Murder at Kings Theatre until Saturday 29th February 2020 and let us know who you agree with!
PHOTOS: Manuel Harlan
GUEST REVIEWER: Daniel Gough