THEATRE REVIEW: Dial M for Murder at Sheffield Lyceum

FORMER talent show duo Tom Chambers and Diana Vickers lead the cast in this revival of a thriller made famous by Alfred Hitchcock.

REMEMBER the days when you could just pick up the phone and dial an old school friend to bump off your wife?

Well, that's basically the story behind this old fashioned “perfect crime” tale of love and money, made famous in 1954 by Alfred Hitchcock’ memorable film version.

Broke, ex-champion tennis player Tony Wendice, played by Strictly Come Dancing winner Tom Chambers, wants to murder his wealthy wife Margot (Diana Vickers).

She’s having an affair with crime writer Max Halliday (Michael Salami). Tony finds out and plots to kill her to get his hands on her savings.

A coward at heart, he blackmails old public school chum, conman Charles Swann (Christopher Harper) to do it.  

An intricate scheme — involving a latchkey, silk stockings and another phone call — unfolds to concoct his alibi.

Of course it all goes wrong. Not so much a “whodunnit” mystery as a who-planned-it.

Wily Inspector Hubbard (also played by Harper) gets on the case, Columbo-style, realises there’s something missing from Wendice's version and sets about finding the truth.

Directed by Anthony Banks, it can be a bit clunky, especially the first half before the pace picks up.  

Removed to the 60s — with a great Zombies and Kinks soundtrack — rather than the 1950s, the set design by David Woodhead comprising a front room in a posh apartment in Maida Vale is evocative.

But odd things happen with the lighting and there's some strange movements from the cast at times.

Chambers shows off some exuberant moves in what is maybe a nod to Strictly days?

And Harper, looking a bit like Eric Morecambe in his glasses, does a rock ‘n’ roll turn during his questioning of Max, a black character he clearly disdains in what seems a modern day reference to police racism.

Frederick Knott’s 70-year-old play relies almost totally on dialogue, so it's the many twists and turns which keep the audience hooked.

But where Hitchcock was the master of the suspense thriller, this entertaining production seems to play it too much for laughs to build any real tension and slips into farce.

That said, the cast performs well. Chambers is creepily convincing, Vickers is believably prim and naive, Salami suitably displays youthful love-torn energy and Harper pulls off a terrific double act that had me guessing at the end.

Overall, you won’t regret taking that call...


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