The Norwich Players are back once again at the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich this week to delight audiences with their production of Dial M for Murder. A tale of double-crossing, blackmail, lies and intrigue punctuated by some clever twists and… a murder, the show runs until 25th November.
Written by English playwright Frederick Knott in 1952, and later made into a blockbuster film by Alfred Hitchcock, this old-school thriller follows the elaborate ruse of a husband who seeks revenge on his unfaithful wife. His plan goes unwittingly awry, leading to a snowballing chain of events, involving all the characters in unexpected ways. The plot thickens when the wife’s ex-lover and a wily Detective Inspector attempt to put the pieces of the puzzle together to establish the hidden truth…
Freya Gift gives an outstanding performance, confidently holding the stage as the fun-loving wealthy socialite Sheila Wendice, switching seamlessly to being scared and distraught as she gets caught up in the play’s sinister events. Also strong is Leighton Williams as 1950s gentleman Tony Wendice, her supposedly loving husband, who is cold and matter-of-fact as he unscrupulously plots his revenge behind her back. Together, they excellently portray what appears to be a happy marriage, despite the secrets they hold from each other.
Excellent support comes from Trevor Markworth, as the sharp-eyed, intelligent officer of the law Detective Inspector Hubbard. Markworth provides a dry, somewhat sarcastic manner to his character, giving the play a touch of dark humour. However, less convincing are Andy Bennett as Sheila’s rather innocent and somewhat bumbling ex-lover, Max Halliday, and Paul Cooke as Tony’s old school friend and shady, weak-willed con artist, “Captain Lesgate”. Neither bring a huge amount to their roles, with the latter being somewhat upstaged by a distracting moustache which is hard to ignore.
The production stage presentation is very well thought-out and effective. The striking set is kept simple, focusing the attention on the characters and their motivations. The intimate stage set-up emphasises the importance of stage elements vital to the plot – such as the apartment door, the various keys, the French windows – without overplaying their presence. Stylish accents of red – in costumes and props – in an otherwise greyscale 1950s set, cleverly combined with simple lighting, casts a dramatic atmosphere, while focusing the eye in just the right place.
An excellent murder mystery – although not a whodunit, as you know who it is from the beginning – the Norwich Players’ latest production manages to keep the air of suspense and anticipation building gradually as the audience is left to wonder if the conniving scoundrel will get away with his dastardly plan, or if the Detective Inspector will fit the clues together. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable evening; highly recommended.