DESIGN FOR MURDER
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 18th June, 2014
Donald F. East’s 1969 “murder thriller” is revived by director Ian Dickens as part of his summer season this year. The period setting is reproduced effectively by the detailed set and the Burt Bacharach tracks that cover the transitions – these are fun and light, in contrast with the treatment of the material. Dickens handles the dynamics of the scenes well (the play begins with a row between husband and wife) but the overall tone could do with leavening. The characters all have something repellent about them and elicit no sympathy whatsoever, discussing and indeed carrying out infidelity, blackmail and murder – their monstrousness could be offset by a lighter touch to bring out the dark humour of East’s script.
A bit heavy on the exposition in the early scenes, the plot zigzags from twist to turn, with the upper hand switching from character to character in an impressive and entertaining way, but again, the overwrought dialogue would be more palatable if the cast were to have more fun with it.
Paul Lavers is Clive, out of love with his second and much younger wife Moira (Carly Nickson), who at the outset is an annoying, whining, self-absorbed woman – you are soon hoping she will be the victim. Moira is having it off with Clive’s business partner Philip (Peter Amory) who is blackmailing Clive for control of their company.
Enter Bridget Lambert, purporting to be Clive’s first wife Jane, and the action really takes off. Lavers is good as sarcastic Clive and you warm to Nickson as Moira as her character gets in deeper and deeper with the shenanigans. Amory does a good turn as the gruff and vain Philip and there is strong support from Lambert as the conniving fourth wheel. The play reveals itself to be almost as twisty-turny as something like Sleuth or Death Trap – the production just needs to lighten up and it would be a cracking black comedy.