Review: Dial M for Murder at Liverpool Playhouse ***1/2
Is there such a thing as a perfect crime?
That’s the question posed by Frederick Knott’s play Dial M for Murder which its writer then adapted for a famous big screen outing at the hands of master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock.
Of course, Knott’s twisty turny piece is less a whodunnit than a ‘he-dunnit’ – the audience knows the whole story pretty much from the off, and the sense of suspense comes in wondering whether the protagonist will be rumbled and receive his just desserts.
This new touring production, back out on the road after a hiatus for you-know-what, is a stylish-looking piece – visually through David Woodhead’s retro metropolitan set design (while the play was written in 1950, here it has been placed at some vaguely defined moment of the early to mid-Swinging Sixties, which mostly works), aurally with an appealing Sixties’ soundtrack, and in its somewhat louche general atmosphere.
Tom Chambers is uber-urbane as Tony Wendice, the slippery self-regarding sinisterly psychopathic former tennis pro who has discovered his socialite wife Margot’s infidelity and is plotting his revenge.
In the words of Rex Harrison’s Professor Higgins, “oozing charm from every pore, he oiled his way around the floor” as he turns his professional charm on love rival Max (Hollyoaks’ Michael Salami) and, initially at least, on his old school acquaintance Swann (Christopher Harper).
Above: Tom Chambers as Tony Wendice and Diana Vickers as Margot. Top: Tom Chambers.
It’s a shame then that despite crisp performances the first half (which ends with a fatal tussle) rather labours under the weight of wordy exposition, while there’s an absence of any palpable sexual frisson between Diana Vickers’ brittle blonde Margot and her confident crime-writing paramour.
But if the first half feels weighted down, the second practically flies – in large part due to the terrific Harper who returns to the fray in the form of investigating Inspector Hubbard, insinuating himself into the crime scene and merrily proceeding to filch the show.
In a story where it’s difficult to rustle up much empathy for any of the characters, Harper’s seemingly mild-mannered inspector is a hero to cheer for as he quietly picks apart a web of lies and deception.
And his understated copper acts as a perfect foil for Salami’s fizzing fictional sleuthing expert Max who might just have unwittingly come to the same crime-busting conclusion.
Is there any such thing as a perfect crime? Maybe yes, maybe no, but there’s certainly some fun to be had in finding out.