Dial M for Murder


King’s Theatre Edinburgh (venue)

24 February 2020 (released)

25 February 2020

An absolute classic of its genre, Frederick Knott’s hugely successful stage play DIAL M FOR MURDER thrilled Edinburgh’s theatre goers during its opening night. Directed by Anthony Banks, the action takes place in Maida Vale, an affluent residential neighbourhood in north-west London. The year is 1963.

Enter professional tennis player Tony Wendice (played with gusto by Tom Chambers), whose marriage to wealthy socialite Margot (Sally Bretton) has seen plenty of ups and downs, and not just in the bedroom. In order to save his marriage Tony, actually retiring from being a professional player, is willing to make more compromises to please Margot, who never did possess much passion for the sport. But now Tony has other plans on his mind: a while ago he discovered that his wife enjoyed as secret affair with American crime-fiction writer Max Halliday (Michael Salami), who appears to be a family friend. Of course, Margot hasn’t got the foggiest that hubby knows, which provides Tony with the (almost perfect) plan to dispatch of her – partly for revenge and partly so the cash-flow situation will be kept going after her demise.

Six months earlier Tony found a love letter from Max in Margot’s handbag which he stole… He then blackmailed his unassuming wife by demanding £50 (a proud sum back in 1963) though of course she had no idea the blackmailer was in fact her husband. Six months on, Tony is still in the possession of that letter and he needs it to carry out his devilish plan. Enter Charles Swann (Christopher Harper), an old acquaintance from Tony’s college days who has since carved out a successful career as a small-time criminal. Swann is now going by the name of ‘Captain Lesgate’ and Tony, always aware of Swann’s whereabouts, has invited his former chum round the flat for ‘old times sake’. Well, not exactly! First, Tony shows Swann the love letter written by Max, meaning that now Swann’s fingerprints are on the letter. Then he really lets the cat out of the bag: he is aware that Swann was responsible for the theft of a box containing a fair bit of dosh and if Swann refuses to co-operate with Tony, he will simply spill the beans. Yep, Tony wants Swann aka ‘Captain Lesgate’ to break into the flat on a night when Max (who still has no inkling that Tony knows of the affair) and Tony are out at a party. In exchange, Tony will pay Swann the handsome sum of £1,000! Margot will stay at home on the fateful night as she promised to paste some press clippings, followed by watching a TV-play on the telly. This is the moment when Swann – hiding behind a curtain – is supposed to strike and strangle Margot with a silk stocking. At 11pm precisely, Tony will phone the flat from the club, that’s about the time when the murder – elaborately planned involving keys and latchkey – is supposed to take place. However, all goes very wrong for Tony and for Swann, because Margot fights off her attacker and stabs him to death with the very scissors she used for cutting and pasting. Just as well! She then screams down the phone in a hysterical state and asks Tony to phone the police. Realising what has just happened, Tony urges Margot not to do anything or change anything until he’s home. Later he calls the police himself and sends a shattered Margot to bed.

Enter Inspector Hubbard (also played by Christopher Harper, and with relish too!) who instinctively smalls a rat straight away. Something about the story with the keys and Margot’s contradictory statements doesn’t add up and it’s not before long when the poor woman is convicted of murder and sentenced to death (one year later the death penalty was abolished in Great Britain). Awaiting her execution for a murder she didn’t really commit as it was self-defence, a distraught Max comes up with an idea he could easily have used in one of his crime novels: he suggests that in order to save Margot’s life, Tony should lie to the police that he bribed Swann to murder his wife. The irony! If only Max would know that this is precisely what Tony did anyway! To give away any more details really would be spilling the beans, so lets just say that Margot won’t be facing the hangman’s noose after Inspector Hubbard stages a ruse to reveal the real culprit…

This play is enormous fun and all the cast are worth their salt. Particular praise needs to go to the stage lighting (at one point it looks as if actual sunshine filters through a window) though given the fact that Tony and Margot Wendice are supposed to be a wealthy couple living in a posh part of London, the flat’s interior design doesn’t exactly suggest luxury.

DIAL M FOR MURDER runs until Sat 29th Feb (www.capitaltheatres.com)

(Photo by Manuel Harlan)

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