Hitchcock adapted this hit play into what would become a classic film in 1954. Having seen and enjoyed Hitchcock’s version, I wanted to go back and see the play that he had been inspired by.
Frederick Knott’s play concerns has-been tennis pro Tony Wendice who intends to have his wife killed after learning she has been unfaithful. However, things soon go wrong and he has to think on his feet and convince Inspector Hubbard of his innocence if he’s to get away with his devious plot.
The mise-en-scène was overtly 50s, with the period tennis rackets, black and white photographs and a wired telephone
For an amateur production, the actors managed to hold their own well. There were a few awkward moments where a character was called the wrong name or a line was fluffed, but by the second half each actor had found their groove. The set was fairly basic, although for a play set in one location the simplicity worked well as all of the clues were hidden in plain sight throughout. The mise-en-scène was overtly 50s, with the period tennis rackets, black and white photographs and a wired telephone. It therefore felt very strange when a mobile was whipped out just before the end, totally reframing the play in my mind. Whether this was for an anachronistic joke in the same way that Pharaoh enters on a motorbike in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat I can’t say, but it definitely fell flat.
At other moments, the play lapsed into dark comedy; the audience laughed when one character was offed, though this should have been a dramatic turning point
The aspect of this production that most held it back was its tone, or lack thereof. At times, the play conformed in style to a typical thriller and this was when it was at its best, tense and gripping, although the prolonged periods of darkness between scenes were incongruous. At other moments, the play lapsed into dark comedy; the audience laughed when one character was offed, though this should have been a dramatic turning point. Similarly, the emergence of Inspector Hubbard in the second act brought with it over-acting and a quite literal tongue in cheek performance.
Overall, Dial M for Murder was an enjoyable production with acting that was better than most amateur productions. It is certainly a shame that it turned from intense thriller to comedy caper the more it progressed.
Dial ‘M’ for Murder is being performed at People’s Theatre from the 21st – 25th January 2020. Tickets are available via People’s Theatre’s website.
Last modified: 5th February 2020