If ever a play set out to shock then this is it. Director Lucy Bailey has taken the film noir concept out of the cinema to stage a thrilling crime drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Dial M For Murder was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film adaptations that starred Grace Kelly and Ray Milland as the “model” couple at the heart of the story.
But Frederick Knott‘s story of murder was written as a stage play and a revival is at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre this week.
Hitchcock liked to make audiences jump (remember the now iconic Psycho shower scene?) and Bailey has taken a leaf out of the master’s book by enhancing a key moment with sound effects that are stomach-turning.
Daniel Betts is terrifying as the misogynistic, callous, former tennis champ, Tony Wendice, who decides to go to extraordinary lengths to dispose of his wife.
Wendice had grown accustomed to the good life that his wife’s money buys him. He admits only marrying her for her inheritance.
Now he wants rid of her and he blackmails a former school mate to do the deed. Only, it all goes terribly wrong.
The set is the living room of the Wendice’s Maida Vale flat. Rather sparsely furnished but, perhaps paying homage to the 1950s film version which Hitchcock play with colour for the first time, its walls are a vivid blood red like early cinema technicolour.
Kelly Hotten makes a superb Grace Kelly substitute. She plays the victim with conviction, an innocent blonde caught up in a terrifying ordeal.
Sheila fools herself that the marriage is idyllic but confides in a would-be lover, Hollywood crime writer Mac Halliday, that it hasn’t been easy.
Halliday (Philip Cairns) spends his days devising ingenious ways to kill people for his scripts so when the worse-case scenario unfolds he is perfectly placed to point police in the right direction.
Dial M is a roller-coaster of terror with enough plot twists to totally wrong foot the audience and keep them on their toes.
Christopher Timothy plays the cerebral cop with a certain finesse but his voice is so quiet that, at times, you miss his lines.
But Betts is utterly mesmerising, giving an icy performance that chills to the bone.
I enjoyed the stylised staging of the piece but “stage-noir” isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The story takes a while to get into its stride, and is wordy, but by act two it’s burning on gas.
The subtly moving set disorientates as much as the storyline, although I could have done without the curtain.
A superior thriller that’s on at the Waterside until Saturday and then continuing to tour.