Tag Archives: Frederick Knott

The Best Laid Plans…

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.

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Plan for murder – Lis Evans’s set design for Dial M For Murder (Photo: Mark Douet)

 

 

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Murder Most Enjoyable

DIAL M FOR MURDER

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 28th April, 2016

 

Frederick Knott’s classic thriller bears repeated viewing (this is my third or fourth production) not least because it’s not a whodunit – it’s more of a will-he-get-away-with-it?  And even if you already know the answer to that, there is still much to reward the audience in this tautly written, expertly plotted piece.  A lesson in crime-writing.

Tony Wendice (Oliver Mellor) is plotting to bump off his wife Sheila (Terri Dwyer) and so enlists former school acquaintance and Jeremy Clarkson lookalike (Jolyon Young) to do the actual deed.  Knott has the two men talk through the plan in detail so we know what’s coming.  This adds to the suspense.  A phone call is to be the inciting action… When it happens, the playwright shows he has surprises up his sleeve.

Oliver Mellor is rather good at being bad.  His Tony is a manipulative, assertive bully – I enjoy disliking him from the off.  Terri Dwyer cuts an elegant figure in 50s couture and, of the entire company, she captures the acting style of the period without descending into spoof or caricature.  Marcus Hutton gives a suave and earnest turn as Sheila’s erstwhile lover Max.  The dialogue, somewhat dated now, sounds fresh coming from these more-than-competent actors.  I find it hard to credit that the young Mellor and the older Young were at the same school, however fleetingly, but I suspend my disbelief and let that go.

Completing the company is an enjoyable John Hester as Inspector Hubbard, deadpan and perspicacious.  We get just much pleasure from watching him unpick Wendice’s deadly scheme.  Director Patric Kearns handles the suspense and the violence well, and the show looks great, courtesy of Geoff Gilder’s design and David North’s lighting.  Production company Talking Scarlet has mounted a solid, dependable staging of a play that epitomises the genre.  Very satisfying.

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No, I don’t have PPI – Olvier Mellor as Tony Wendice


Phoning it in

DIAL M FOR MURDER

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 13th May, 2014

 

Frederick Knott’s taut 1950s thriller is given an excellent revival in Lucy Bailey’s production, currently playing at the REP.  It is very much a period piece and Bailey does well to preserve the 1950s feel while giving her production a fresh contemporary-retro atmosphere.  This is due in no small part to Mike Britton’s glamorous red set with its stylish 50s furniture and translucent walls and curtains.  There are two revolves: on one stands the furniture; from the other, a curtain hangs.  Both revolve slowly, almost imperceptibly, at various times during the action – it’s like seeing the inner workings of a machine, the cogs of Knott’s plot at work, as the villain sets his wicked plan in motion and the playwright winds up the tension.

Daniel Betts is suitably urbane and smarmy as the villainous, betrayed husband Tony Wendice, who enlists old school acquaintance and bit of a wrong ‘un, Captain Lesgate (a very good Robert Perkins) to bump off his cheating wife.  The plan hinges upon a telephone call at the crucial moment – hence the title – and when the violence takes place, it is all the more shocking for its stylisation.  Fight direction by Philip d’Orleans is complemented by unsettling contributions from lighting designer Chris Davey and sound design by Mic Pool.

Even though I have seen this play staged before, the new lease of life given to it by this production, meant I was still enthralled and thrilled.  Bailey doesn’t let the stylish presentation get in the way of Knott’s superbly crafted script.

Kelly Hotten is appealing as intended victim Mrs Wendice, looking every inch the 50s starlet under Chris Davey’s cinematic lighting.  Philip Cairns is her lover Max, making it easy to see why Mrs Wendice prefers him to her husband.  Christopher Timothy tops off this tight ensemble as determined Inspector Hubbard who worries away at every detail of the case like a dog with a bone, until the truth is brought to light.

Wordy passages of exposition are counterbalanced with wordless moments of action – Knott knew exactly what he was doing and this production clearly demonstrates why this play is a masterpiece of the genre.

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Kelly Hutton is asked about her PPI (Photo: Manuel Harlan)