DIAL M FOR MURDER
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Wednesday 3rd May, 2017
I have seen several productions of Frederick Knott’s masterpiece over the years but never in-the-round, so it’s intriguing to see how a story in which doors and windows are so important is staged with neither of these features…
The short answer is: brilliantly.
Lis Evans’s design gives us the London flat of Tony and Sheila Wendice, complete with floor plan showing us where the doors and French windows are, like an architect’s plan. The flat is an island set on a sea of street maps, to give us the Maida Vale setting, while stylish furniture evokes the 1950s period. Rather than have his actors mime the opening and closing of the non-existent doors, director Peter Leslie Wild opts for lighting changes and sound effects – the added bonus is we see characters arriving at the flat before they ring the doorbell, increasing the dramatic irony, and also exposing the workings of Knott’s taut plot – it’s like watching an exquisitely made clock with its cogs in full view.
Nicole Bartlett is a rather cool Sheila in the Grace Kelly mode, elegant and vulnerable. Daniel Easton is a likeable Max – her one-time boyfriend – and Paul Brendan is a workmanlike Inspector Hubbard, teasing out the complexities of the crime. But it is William Ellis’s Tony, the mastermind of the murder plot, who captivates, weaving his web of intrigue and drawing us in – even if we know what’s coming. Rob Heanley’s Lesgate is the heavy, coerced into doing the dirty deed, completing a flawless ensemble.
Daniella Beattie’s lighting adds to the atmosphere, although things are a little too hazy at the start, as if the peasouper in the streets has invaded the flat. James Earl-Davis’s sound has plenty to do to give us the sense of the flat, accompanying the action with appropriate sound effects, but there is also something disconcerting in the air, keeping us on edge.
There is something incredibly satisfying in seeing Tony scheme his detailed scheme, topped only by seeing how it is foiled, brought down by a similar attention to detail. Much of it comes from Knott’s superlative writing, of course, but this production’s skilful handling of some wordy scenes along with tense moments of action and suspense, delivers all the thrills in all the right places.