The tried and tested plot from playwright Fredrick Knott is a sinister, preplanned crime thriller served by pensive performers and heightened by its suspenseful dialogue.
Psychological games run wild on the Lowry stage as a love triangle between friends Mark and Margot threatens to be revealed through a scandalous letter to her husband Tony. Unknown to the lovers, Tony has been sitting on this information for over a year but after growing financially dependent on his wealthy wife, Tony (Tom Chambers) has decided to unceremoniously murder her so he can continue his life of leisure.
Knott has written a strangely restful murder mystery in which the audience is immediately aware that the creepily charming husband holds all of the cards before any plan is even played out on stage. However incremental in its reveals, the hypnotic storytelling falls to the shows terrific writing and direction that pushes the narrative forward. Due to its exposition-heavy plot and its almost entirely blackmailed line up of characters, all conversations feel incredibly intense. But the 1952 dialogue of faux British politeness while being blackmailed, threatened and investigated is as convincing and hilarious now as it was in the ’50s.
Director Antony Banks holds the set on the couple’s home while the teased-out murder of Margot is layered with multiple misdirection’s and subtle visual ques that are followed by inspector Hubbard, played by Christopher Harper and writer of detective novels/lover Max Halliday (Michael Salami). Calm and cunning in its delivery, the story initially premiered on the BBC in 1952 and was pushed further into popularity with Hitchcock’s 1954 3D feature film starring Grace Kelly. The back and forth between chief inspector Hubbard, husband Tony and lover Mark stand out as precision-based set ups for audiences to help join the detectives’ dots for this crowd-pleasing tale. Despite the productions lack of 3D visuals and the forced, almost muted responses of its coerced cast, the shows second act is filled with tension.
However, this production of Dial M For Murder leans more towards comedy than drama. Despite the cast convincingly carrying out this technically difficult caper, the show feels uncomfortable with any silence on stage, filling out scenes with visual gags and speeding through lines. Chambers’ expressive performance as Tony saps much of the vile from his meticulous character, making him a misguided and gullible baddie alongside the straight-talking inspector. The show rests on mountains of dialogue being explained at length, keeping audiences focused on the gripping and surprisingly funny conversations that are filled with suspenseful trickery. But here too much is played out for laughs rather than suspense. Knott’s timeless tale surrounding love, blackmail and murder is full of British charm, opulence and the predictable underhanded deception of those who have it. Shrouded in shadows and surrounded by an ominous soundtrack, this 69-year-old tale keeps pace with even the most modern of murder mysteries.
Tickets are available through the Lowry link