In these days of intensely complicated sets, multi-million pound gimmicks and ingenious stage management it is refreshing to attend a play that is just that - a play.
Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder, famously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, is a darkly fascinating thriller that enthrals through language and tension conjured up almost entirely by the five-strong cast and a stellar script.
One rotating set, the use of lighting and sinister music set the scene for the dastardly plottings of former tennis pro and and posh boy Tony Wendice, played by Richard Lintern.
With tagline, ‘When murder calls, hang up,’ this is a twist on the classic whodunnit, with multiple twists and turns, but gentle it is not. We may know ‘whodunnit’ from the opening scenes but whether he gets away with it is another matter.
Starring Christopher Timothy, of All Creatures Great and Small and Doctors fame, as Inspector Hubbard, what marks out this production is the actor’s pure joy of being on stage, the macabre nature of the material nonetheless.
The production, directed by Lucy Bailey and set in a somewhat bucolic post-war London, starts out in a stilted manner, the interaction between characters initially awkward. But it soon warms up and gradually grips as you follow the complex machinations of the killer’s plot and watch his wife’s inexorable journey toward what looks like her inevitable death.
Tension is ratcheted up by the use of silence and minimal movement on stage - when the moment of murder strikes, the strangling sounds are almost too uncomfortable to bear.
There are shocks and almost unbearable twists that see the audience gasping on several occasions, although the pace is slow and leaps made in plot that sometimes leave you scratching your head.
But overall there is no doubt that this is a highly entertaining and atmospheric production of the old school, the story told through some top notch acting and direction.