We’ve all been there, plotting to murder our spouses to inherit their huge fortune. But when former tennis pro Tony Wendice determines to off his unfaithful wife Margot (Former X Factor songstress Diana Vickers) his plan is – on the face of it – watertight; the perfect crime. Blackmailing a dodgy former school chum into strangling his other half, Wendice gives himself the perfect alibi – a night out with his wife’s lover. Needless to say, things don’t go to plan – good thing too, or Dial M For Murder wouldn’t last beyond the interval.
Based on a play first broadcast on the BBC in 1952 (subsequently given the big screen treatment by Hitchcock), Dial M For Murder is a tight four-hander that play out entirely in the comfortable west London flat inhabited by the Wendices.
Tom Chambers imbues Wendice with a lissom, almost camp, menace – like a TV game show host whose smile hides something terrible. He makes the audience his accomplice with smirks and grimaces that only the fourth wall can see and glides around the stage, his Strictly Come Dancing (Chambers won the sixth series) skills serving him well.
With the glitz of a pro tennis career behind him, he has only a life unencumbered by matrimony and gilded with wealth to look forward to. No crime of passions this, for him, murder is a means to an end. Yet it’s hard not to side with Tony against his wet lettuce wife and smartarse cuckolder. With his physicality, sneering asides and slightly manic gregariousness, Chambers is bringing a lot to the table in a production that can sometimes feel moribund.
Much exposition is required to move the plot along and, beyond Chamber’s enjoyable wicked performance, Dial M For Murder needs a shot on the arm. One arrives in the shape of Christopher Harper giving his second performance of the night as Inspector Hubbard, having previously brought a touch of criminal suavity – and enormous moustache – to Captain Lesgate, the petty criminal Wendice engages to kill Margot.
Harper’s Hubbard adds some tics and offbeat readings of the text that give the audience some clear laughs to latch on to. But there’s more to this detective than meets the eye and Wendice is forced to extemporise wildly when first his wife’s bit on the side and crime writer Max (Michael Salami) gets closer to the truth than he realises and then the Inspector calls.
Dial M For Murder would benefit from both more laughs and a ratcheting up of suspense. But there’s a lot to enjoy from the tight cast, contemporary soundtrack and even the odd Dutch angle rendered into the set – perhaps a nod to its noir-ish origins.
Being back in the theatre – particularly the glorious Playhouse – felt like a treat unthinkable just a few short months ago. We’ve been dying to get back and a murder is just the ticket.
Dial M For Murder
Until 18 September