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

Preview: Dead Good – The Studio

Dead Good is set to open in Edinburgh on February 13th at The Studio, Festival Theatre. Playing for two nights at 19.30pm before touring further. Tickets can be found at:https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/dead-good

Abstracts and quotations taken from syndicated interview by Diane Parkes

Death is just around the corner, so why not go in style? Or at the very least, throw a few punches first. Despite the inevitability, we never discuss death – who can blame us? Vamos Theatre, however, envisions Dead Good as an accessible way of prying open the door to open discussion.

We start our story at the end of theirs; told that they are dying, Bob and Bernard embark on one last grand adventure, living every ounce of time they have left to the fullest. The two men come to realise the values of life, love and wealth friendship can offer. Marrying tragedy with the mask of comedy, writer & artistic director Rachael Savage wants: “to demystify death and take the fear out of it” while incorporating a thirst for life and appreciation of humour. 

There is one thing our attitudes towards mortality can be truly harvested for – laughs. It’s a fact that artistic producers are capable of finding the fun in funeral, Savage seeking to entertain as much as she wishes to leave audiences with discussion as well as memories;

“I think people expect to go away from one of our shows having laughed and cried and with something to think about” 

In collaboration with palliative care patients and specialists, Dead Good continues Vamos Theatre’s dedication to creating theatre encompassing under-represented groups, Savage stating:

I give people a voice who often don’t have one, so our shows have to be about things that I am passionate about and that I want to make people think differently about.

As part of their research, for 18 months, Vamos Theatre gained first-hand experiences and opinions on the subject of mortality, and the attitudes surrounding this to capture authenticity. Further, the buzz and determination behind the production secure an understanding that those behind Dead Good have created the piece with solid intentions.

Due to the production’s nature of mask use, the communication method of the show welcomes anyone, being fully accessible to deaf audiences without a signer.

Aron De Casmaker, a Canadian clown performer who honed his skills with Cirque du Soleil plays Bob. Ringing the delicate matter of death to the nation, and is certainly one to catch for its two-night stay in Edinburgh. De Casmaker reinforcing his interest and passion for the project;

I’m really excited about this project. The idea of finding the lightness in dark material really attracts me to the theatre and in this show we are hitting a very realistic view of death head-on and then finding the joy and the lightness that comes from that

Set to deliver on tears of laughter, and a few shed out of inspiration, Dead Good has received positive coverage for its tackling of a hushed subject, with Tammy Gooding of BBC Hereford & Worchester awarding the production five stars, advising audiences to bring tissues.

Dead Good opens at The Festival Theatre – The Studio on February 13th at 19.30pm. Tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/dead-good

Full touring dates can be found at Vamos Theatre at: https://www.vamostheatre.co.uk/shows/show/dead-good#diary

Ten Times Table – King’s Theatre

Written by Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Robin Herford

If the authenticity of the dreariness of a committee meeting seems spot-on, it will come as no shock to hear of writer Alan Ayckbourn’s endless experiences with councils and organisations as he too attempted to secure funding for theatre projects. A herald of British comedic writing, Ayckbourn is renowned for an astute dissection for the notorious thirst and depravities of commonplace relationships, staging them in remarkably familiar surroundings. Then, there is Ten Times Table.

Ayckbourn’s position as playwright should, inherently, place his writing squarely in the ability to take all sides, weigh them accordingly and balance the reality of the situation with the comedy elements. Instead, Ayckbourn seems to find himself stagnant on the same table the committee seems intent on never leaving. Ten Times Table is neither a full-fledged farce nor capitalising on more than pleasant Sunday afternoon chuckle.

Heading this committee is Ray, who naively attempts to find harmony with other representatives of the town, including his wife Helen, rallying them behind a historical re-enactment. Of course, history has an uncanny ability to repeat itself, often with disastrous consequences. Slowly (very slowly) the committee drag themselves up and out of the bar long enough to hold their first meeting. As Helen finds a nemesis in self-proclaimed Marxist Eric, a state-comprehensive teacher, the remaining members find themselves drawn into an impending breakdown between the two. Battle lines are drawn, war is about to break, but the tension is as taut as a well-worn slipper.

Robert Daws’ Ray is a remarkably upbeat character, with an approachability entirely unexpected from the role. There’s principally nothing offensive to the character, perfectly pleasant (if a little dull), Daws brings likeability and interest where other performers may have lost our attention. His ability to curve the tone of his annunciation to coax out a laugh from the audience offers a little more depth to the character, and he works well with Deborah Grant playing Helen – who herself injects a tremendous weight of rural-town, middle-class venom into the part.

The stage never feels large enough for the cast, incorporating a few extra players on the board as we introduce characters Tim (Harry Gostelow) and timid-sounding Philippa (Rhiannon Handy). Robin Herford’s direction helps promote the small-town feel of standing on top of one another, no secrets to hide but plenty of noses about, but there’s only so much he and the cast can work with. Both Mark Curry and Robert Duncan have the potential for rich development which never strays far into the narrative, Duncan’s role as Laurence; a man going through a marital breakdown seems more a nuisance to the committee rather than a genuine area to build relationships on.

Michael Holt’s design work is quaint, refusing to commit to unnecessary set-work when the minimum will do – opting for a had-its-best-days look of a hotel conference room, complete with table and piano. If anything, the scale of this table, dominating the stage, is too accurate in depiction. The production’s first half is largely spoken wordplay in its comedy, with the occasional facial expression. It looms, overbearing the cast who have little room for manoeuvring, limiting their range of reactions and interactions with one another.

In stark contrast, the second half-strips away the table to the morning of the gala, chaos bubbling beyond the doors. Here, Ayckbourn’s play takes a steady leap towards the shaping of a farce, which is carried off by all performers well. Notably short, the second halves’ 30-minute run time makes for a brief punch of comedy, but only offers a sliver of what the cast is capable of, notably Gostelow’s physicality.

Further distorting the script, Craig Gazey delivers a perfect comedic narcissism to the Marxist character which the Daily Mail would gleefully write about. He and Deborah Grant’s characterisation exhibit a wealth of passionate exposition at loggerheads, but they’re written as such one-note caricatures that quickly the joke ebbs. In no fault of the performers, it limits how we connect with the characters on-stage, distancing us from a fully dimensional performance. The animosity the two shares isn’t unfounded, but it feels far less like biting social commentary and far more similar to a plot-thread you might bump into on re-runs.

Technology and politics may change, but people do not; Ten Times Table reflects the culture it imitates, mimicking the irritation of a committee meeting while capturing the lengths petty squabbles and small-town mindsets can grow. It fails to develop any sense of relationship for the characters, instead, allowing itself to lapse into a meander of paint-by-numbers sitcom structure. No sense of urgency or genuine threat is felt for character relationships or outcomes. It’s by far one of Ayckbourn’s weaker plays, a product of the time but the Classic Comedy Theatre Companie’s tour fails to find any relevance with a modern audience outside of a few cheap gags, niggling chuckles but does profit from an accomplished cast who are attempting their best with a limp script.

Ten Times Table runs at The King’s Theatre until February 8th. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/ten-times-table

Photo Credit: Pamela Raith