Dial M for Murder King’s Theatre

Much of the tension in Dial M for Murder comes from the claustrophobic setting – the living room of Tony and Sheila Wendice’s Maida Vale flat. The feeling is intensified here, there are no windows to lighten the room, and the front door only opened at, if you’ll pardon the expression, key moments. And with the décor a drab, unrelenting dark red it is easy to empathise with Sheila (an excellent Kelly Hotten) when she feels the world closing in around her. Unfortunately this, combined with the set’s slow, circular movement which, while sometimes a useful tool to emphasise on-stage events at other times seems to serve no useful purpose.

Showing with only one interval to break up proceedings means that the first half is overlong and over wordy. The plot (Tony hatches a scheme to have his wife murdered while he has a foolproof alibi) comes together slowly and there’s little in the way of thrills or action in this period. Sadly the murder attempt, when it does come, is so overwrought that it calls to mind the protracted death of Old Joshua Merriweather in Tony Hancock’s “The Bowmans”. Judging by the giggles from the audience, I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. And this cannot be a good thing when this is the most crucial point of the play.

The evening takes a turn for the better with the arrival of Christopher Timothy as Inspector Hubbard. The star name in this production, he is also the star performer. With his raincoat and polite but determined demeanour he could have been father to Peter Falk’s Columbo and effortlessly ups the pace as he seeks the truth that will save Sheila from the gallows.

Driven by this, the final act cracks along and goes a long way to redeem what went before.

Not the most satisfying of productions, then, in spite of fine performances by the cast. I would be interested to know, though, why Philip Cairns as Sheila’s lover Max plays the first half as though his part had been rewritten by Harold Pinter; full of odd pauses and then transforms into a quick talking action man after the interval. Granted he’s trying to come up with a way to save his lover’s life but it’s hard to credit that it’s the same man.

Respect must go to sound designer Mic Pool – his dark, edgy jazz soundtrack would have graced any film noir.