When I was younger I developed a taste for Hollywood’s golden era from watching the Sunday matinee movie presentations on ‘the box’. I particularly enjoyed Hitchcock’s thrillers, and one of my favourites was the classic Dial M For Murder, the macabre and gripping tale of infidelity, blackmail, murder and good solid detective work written by English playwright Frederick Knott. Until last weekend, however, I had not seen a live performance of the original play so I have been looking forward to Woy Woy’s production, and I’m happy to report the intervening decades and transfer to the stage have not diminished the drama, suspense and intrigue of the story.
Director Brendon Flynn, who also directed Woy Woy’s hugely successful production of The Mousetrap, has explained that he likes this play because “it is not a typical thriller. It’s not so much a ‘whodunnit’ as ‘will he get away with it?’ It features the sort of plot devices that later came to serve the Columbo TV series well for many years.” The comment interested me as the parallel hadn’t occurred to me before but, as a fan of the idiosyncratic seventies detective, I instantly took the point. This is a play in which the murderer, his motivation and his method are all presented to the audience up front. Tony Wendice married his wife Margot for her money, but sees his comfortable domestic set up threatened by the appearance of a rival for his wife’s affections. He decides that the best way to secure her fortune for himself, is to arrange to have her murdered. In the early scenes the audience watches him explain and execute a calculated and meticulous plot to pull off the perfect crime then, when things don’t go exactly to plan, he adapts to new circumstances with Machiavellian cunning. The later drama revolves around a battle of wits between Tony, Margot’s lover, and a shrewd detective inspector.
Conscientious attention to detail in the set and décor, costuming and choice of music all blend to evoke the atmosphere and a sense of the fifties period setting of the play. Even before the play begins a series of fifties clippings and advertisements shown on a movie screen establish the mood and era and also foreground certain prevailing attitudes about the respective roles of husbands and wives in marriage that underpin the action of the coming drama. Another nice directorial touch is an homage to Hitchcock’s original opening movie credits recreated on the same screen. Also worthy of mention is some clever use of sound in the second act that helps the audience to visualize action taking place out of sight.
Once the action begins, however, the focus is on the intricate, absorbing plot and its protagonists. It is pleasing to see Woy Woy continuing to encourage new performers. John Lusty and Tony Burke both make promising stage debuts in the roles of Lesgate and Inspector Hubbard respectively. They are ably supported by WWLT regulars Sierra Phillips and Greg Buist who play hapless ingénue Margot and her ardent thriller-writer lover. The central role of Tony is carried by seasoned acting professional Greg Eccleston who plays him to a tee, successfully portraying both his clinical menace and his sociopathic charm, ensuring the audience is gripped from start to finish, waiting and hoping for the consummate villain to finally get his!
Dial M For Murder continues this weekend. For more details see WWLT’s press releases in the Theatre & Dance category right >