Dial M For Murder – King’s Theatre

Written by Frederick Knott

Directed by Anthony Banks

Let’s admit one thing; if at one time or another you haven’t concocted the ‘perfect’ murder – you’re likely the one to worry about. How we would get away with it, tying the loose threads together to ensure no slip-ups or the lavish costumes involved – we’ve all thought it up. Dial M for Murder, a classic of thriller cinema, an Alfred Hitchcock staple, has been adapted to the stage from Frederick Knott’s screenplay to welcome a fresh audience into atmospheric theatre. Or perhaps in Anthony bank’s take, a new kind of Carry-On Killing.

Upon discovering his wife’s affection for another man, Tony Wendice goes beyond the immediate aggressions of murder, and into a cold, sinister plan to blackmail someone else into doing the dirty work. Planning each detail, ensuring the plan cannot fail, things go array as his wife Margot changes her routine, setting off a chain of events.

Rooting for the killer, depending on the scenario, has the makings of a sinfully delicious narrative. Excessive, slimy, yet endearingly appealing, much of the production’s over-the-top vibe can be traced back to Tom Chambers performance, Christopher Harper a close second. Here is where a division may occur for the audience, where the line between Hitchcock thriller strays into farcical. Chambers early passion for dance, clear from Strictly Come Dancing and Top Hat continues into Dial M, with his dance training reinforces the spider-like cunning of Wedice’s role. Every strand he weaves cannot be plucked without his know-how. He calculates every occurrence, and Chambers lives for the enjoyment of the character, even if he is seconds from a vaudeville cackle or moustache twirl.

Quite the reverse – subdued, Sally Bretton has a tempered outlook for Margot Wendice, the target of husband Tony’s plan for murder. Perhaps the closest to authentic performance, Bretton deserves credit for grounding the otherwise cartoonish aspects of the production. Possibly, though, Banks’ direction should have stabled the ground, rather than having two talented performers playing characters from two entirely different genres of drama? Despite Bretton and Chambers chemistry, indeed her connection with lover Max (Michael Salami) is palpable too, there feels odd mashing of characters where they are from the shared narrative, but entirely different productions.

Guilty of this difference in performance styles, even for obvious reasons, Christopher Harper’s dual role as both murderer Captain Lesgate and detective Inspector Hubbard leads to an intriguing twist where Lesgate, the crook, with his moustache, exuberant accent and dress comes across as the more three-dimensional. Hubbard, while comical and engaging, occasionally strays from detective into a clown. Dipping a toe into Pink Panther inspiration, Harper exaggerates but refrains from an entirely animated performance. Using the space well, it is the climax where he gains command of the stage, encompassing the stage design into his characters broad movements.

Staging is everything for a production such as this, capturing the right aesthetic can make or break the immersion. Notwithstanding a few time inaccurate details, David Woodhead’s stage design is angular, sharp and toys with perspective. The angular structure especially accentuates Lizzie Powell’s lighting, allowing marvellous nods to the original film’s use of intimidation and shadow. Truly its only flaw is how stagnant it feels, how little flexibility there is.

Components of Bank’s production are gems, ready for the taking, but seem scattered in varying directions. Dial M for Murder is neither a comedic killer nor a thrilling laugh. It lands halfway between a pastiche of classic cinema, and a sitcom re-telling. Intentional or not, it works, Knotts’ narrative makes for a delightful evening which may not have been what one would expect, but unexpected surprises are often the most welcome.

Dial M For Murder runs at The King’s Theatre until February 29th. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/dial-m-for-murder

Oor Wullie The Musical – King’s Theatre

Book & Lyrics: Scott Gilmour

Music: Claire McKenzie

Director: Andrew Panton

Being blunt, the concept of drawing on an eighty-year-old comic script – rife with slang, Dundonian heritage and is as quintessentially Scottish as Irn Bru chews and Haggis Pakora could leave a potential unpleasant taste in the mouth if done tacky. Capitalising on nostalgia is by no means a new fad, and Oor Wullie, aye that annual yer granny gets you which you never bothered to pick-up has been delighting kids, and big ones across Scotland for decades. It would also seem, that with the right knack, embracement and know-how, Oor Wullie is a fandabidozi musical.

Coherently nostalgic, yet modern, Claire McKenzie and Scott Gilmour craft a sentimental production which captures a thick vein of Scottish humour while pumping it full of enthusiastic energy, maintaining the comic’s origins, and ensuring a modern spirit of inclusion. Frankly, the coming months will be a trying period for us all, particularly those who may not ‘look’ Scottish enough, thankfully we can look to the past to hopefully lead our future.

Young Scot Wahid, whose parents originate from Pakistan, starts a new school in a country where he has always called home, even if fellow students seem confused about his origins. Finding solace in the library, under the watchful eye of the librarian Dudley, a touching reference to original animator Dudley D. Watkins, Oor Wullie lands himself in trouble again, emerging from the very annual Wahid finds solace in. No longer in Auchenshuggle, Wullie and the gang must adapt to this peculiar world. Through Kenneth Macleod’s vivid designs, directly out of the Sunday Post, emphasising the comic roots for the characters with layers upon layers of colour, effects and one very special Wullie Wagon.

Lifting the skirt of risqué, Oor Wullie capitalises on the countries passionate thirst for double entendres, in-jokes and having a belter of a time. None of the jokes feels harsh or targeted, levelling off as safe for the whole family. The entire cast achieves a brilliant sense of comic timing, particularly Dan Buckley’s Bob and Ann Louise Ross as the charmingly befuddled PC Murdoch. The cheeky chappy himself Martin Quidd tackles the role of Wullie, exaggerating to accentuate the comic-strip background. His chemistry with the entire gang is tangible, but with a touching reflection found in Eklovey Kashyap’s Walid offers a real sentimentality amidst the frolic and fun.

Course, it wouldnae be right to celebrate eighty years of Scotland’s favourite son without a little music, now would it? McKenzie’s musical composition carries Gilmour’s lyrics well, capturing the overall tone of the production. Though a mixed lot vocally, there’s a communal sense to the vocals rather than a polished feel, almost folky. Standout numbers offer a fleshed-out role for Leanne Tarynor’s brilliantly portrayed Basher Mackenzie, and what may at first raises eyebrows as the gang don saris, is a meticulously well-structured number, with taste, humour and delightful choreography courtesy of Chi-San Howard.

All across Scotland Oor Wullie could be found perched upon his pale from the cobbles of Edinburgh to the high streets of Dunfermline and was an expression of the astonishing artistic talents of over two-hundred designs. Now, here is the chance to meet the lad face-to-face, leaping from his two-dimensional form, with a breath of life befitting his cheeky demeanour.

Review originally for Reviewshub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/oor-wullie-the-musical-kings-theatre-edinburgh/

Photo Credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) – Royal Lyceum Theatre

Written by Isobel McArthur after Jane Austen

Directed by Paul Brotherston

Ignore everything you may have thought you knew about Jane Austen’s literary classic Pride & Prejudice; Isobel McArthur is about to change your entire perception. It takes a vision to reinvigorate a text, especially one with as countless adaptations, stiffness and dust that Pride & Prejudice conjure to a general audience, but Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) brings a freshness to the crumpled pages.

Every story is made up of the background lives upon which is builds a foundation. Sometimes, these backdrop characters form mere scenery, other times the stories wouldn’t cope without them – as can you truly have romance without clean linen? McArthur’s loving retelling of the Bennet sisters lives, and their Mother’s resolution to secure their future is told by six women, all of whom are the cleaners, bedmaids and keepers of the family home. For who has a better impression of what is going on upstairs, but those downstairs?

Taking on the mantle of adapting Austen’s piece for comedy is a feat taken on by many, with few succeeding. Lizzie Bennet has found herself an online vlogger, fighting zombies and on more than one occasion, no longer human. To not only infuse rich, distinctly West Coast humour, with a bubbling blend of gutter sniping insults, a wit beyond measure but perform the roles of Mrs Bennet and Colin Firth Mr Darcy too, well no bloody wonder Isobel McArthur looks proud at the standing ovation the production deserved.

Bo-Jo has arrived, and this might be the one time the buffooning Etonesque ‘charm’ has appeal, and if that doesn’t sell Hannah Jarrett-Scott’s performance of Charles Bingley then evidently recognising brilliance is a difficulty of yours. Manifesting four distinctly unique characters, with a tremendous helping of hot air, Jarrett-Scott finds a balance in excessive physicality, but still retains an emotional connection; particularly with Charlotte Lucas. Far from alone, equality exists between the six women’s role, with Tori Burgess bringing as much effervescent energy as Jarret-Scott.

This good ole’-fashioned stance of feminist storytelling finds comfort in its resolute cast of talents, who are living for their respective parts. As evident as the parody may be, the care in Austen’s text is equally clear – Meghan Tyler, evokes a brassier Elizabeth Bennet, but no less human. If you had any wonder if the writer of Crocodile Fever’s performance capability could match her written, from the outset Tyler’s characterisation makes it unambiguous how nimble her skill is in producing a character and shaking the audience’s pockets for every last dribble of laughter.

And that’s precisely what this is; fun. A collect of gags and laughs, Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is merriment at its hungover messy best. Finding a balance in larger than life chaos, with a ripple of dramatic integrity – there’s a delicate keel which tips in the smallest of ways. Pacing slackens towards the Act 1 climax, where a false ending of sorts crescendos in bombastic energy, to make way for a quick, narrative scene which drops momentum, even if it does close with a banging song choice. 

Thing is, what sort of party would this be without music? We’ve got finger foods, drama and wine – so surely the tunes must follow? A convoluted mixture of karaoke hits on shuffle, Michael John McCarthy’s legendary sound design and musical supervision achieve the lacing of pop classics with period literature without irking. It’s a release of sorts, the way only music can achieve; that just as the volatile nature of a scene grows, the only possible emotional release is to belt it all out – a task Christina Gordon’s Jane relishes.

If you’re having a peculiar sense of déjà vu, designer Ana Inés Jabares – Pita’s previous Lyceum production Twelfth Night seems to have been the benchmark for McArthur’s production. Paul Brotherston directs the space well, utilising the limitations of the venue, becoming remarkably inventive on occasion, enabling the six to showcase Emily Jane Boyle’s choreography, which sways from a movement-based to a more comical farce.

Now, despite what your English teacher may have once notified you; you’re allowed to dislike Pride & Prejudice or Austen. In particular, a fault not with the novel, but the exclusivity and absurd purity fans of the Period genre adhere to. In truth, the story is a paradigm of romantic comedy, a wonderful example of the genre and the disservice many adaptations do to the ‘image’ of Austen’s work. Isobel McArthur, on the other hand, has a canny ability to isolate an issue of class and place the servants in the storytellers armchair.

McArthur tears up the novel and lovingly binds the pages back together with chewing gum, plasters and a few choice vino stains. There is tremendous respect in the art of parody, even if they do pick apart the narrative issues, heavyhandedly highlighting how far (if at all) we have come from ‘antiquated’ beliefs. Invigorating a precious text, unafraid to let its mascara run while slapping on rose-tinted specs, and infusing it with plenty of craic; Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is sort of marvellous

Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) runs at The Royal Lyceum Theatre until February 15th. Tickets are available from: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/pride-and-prejudice-sort-of

Photography by Mihaela Bodlovic