Theatre Review: DIAL M FOR MURDER – The Lowry, Salford

Tom Chambers as Tony and Diana Vickers as Margot in DIAL M FOR MURDER

With its farcical delivery, Anthony Banks’ adaption of DIAL M FOR MURDER takes a different approach to Frederick Knott’s classic thriller

3 out of 5 stars

It’s fair to say that DIAL M FOR MURDER has somewhat of a fond place in this reviewer’s heart. As the first ever theatre review published on Frankly My Dear UK, the show marks a return to full circle for the site, as a new production by Anthony Banks’ production heads out on a UK tour.

Based on the play by Frederick Knott, DIAL M FOR MURDER tells the story of jaded ex-tennis star Tony Wendice (Tom Chambers) who discovers that his wife Margot (Diana Vickers) has been having an affair with American crime writer Max Halliday (Michael Salami).

With his tennis career over and feeling the financial pinch, Tony’s mind turns to murder, recruiting an old school friend, Charles Swann (Christopher Harper) to commit the murder for him, in the pursuit of the ‘perfect crime’.
With its stylised set, strong cast performance and nostalgic and smooth direction, it’s easy to see why DIAL M FOR MURDER remains such a classic.

Diana Vickers as Margot in DIAL M FOR MURDER

Made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 film starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, Banks’ production is almost word-for-word to the movie, its fast pace and stylish transitions helping to keep the tension high.

Yet in an interesting move, Banks’ adaption takes a different approach to previous productions, not only by transporting the plot, themes, and characters into ‘modern day’, but also in its delivery.

The period is updated from early 1950s to the mid-sixties, aided by David Woodhead’s gorgeous, no-nonsense set and costume design.

The set – the living room of the Maida Vale ground floor flat where all the action takes place – looks every inch the part, with its pot plants, LPs, pale green cushions and 60s style sofa. It also allows for good use of Lizzie Powell’s stunning lighting design, which is a character in itself.

Odd then, that Banks chooses to change the delivery of the piece by providing some tactical light relief amid the skullduggery.

In this production, DIAL M FOR MURDER is practically farcical in its comedy, wallowing in the ridiculousness of Knott’s original script, and bringing the audience along for the ride.

In the lead role Tony Wendice, Tom Chambers boasts plenty of charm and charisma, playing the character with a level of intensity. Yet, while his physical performance is enjoyable, the temptation to play for laughs means the sinister, darker side of would-be murderer is lost.

Tom Chambers as Tony Wendice in DIAL M FOR MURDER

As Margot, Diana Vickers captures the complexity of the role well, shining in the more emotionally charged scenes, while Michael Salami brings a huge amount of the energy to the piece as Max Halliday, the American crime writer in love with Wendice’s wife.

But the star of this piece is Christopher Harper, who plays both Captain Lesgate, the con man hired to commit the crime, and the relentless Inspector Hubbard. Harper’s characterisation of both roles is outstanding, and his strong characterisation and perfect comic timing helping to carry the second act.

Of course, fans of the original Hitchcock film may feel a little short-changed by the lack of sinister suspense. At times, the comedy jars with the play’s themes, and some of the humour falls a little flat, leaving the audience more bemused than bewitched.

That said, there is enough twists and turns keep the audience interested right to the end, and Banks shows a great deal of respect for the original text while tastefully acknowledging the time in which it is now being performed.

DIAL M FOR MURDER runs at The Lowry, Salford until 20 November 2021.