JOYCE MCMILLAN on DIAL M FOR MURDER at the King’s Theatre Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 22.2.14.
4 stars ****
ON A BLEAK winter’s day, there’s nothing like a damned good thriller to raise the temperature; particularly when it’s played out, like Lucy Bailey’s fine new touring production of Frederick Knott’s classic crime drama, on a stylised blood-red set that succeeds both in providing a perfect setting for some smart modern postwar furniture, and in conjuring up the very fires of hell.
First seen in London in 1952, Dial M For Murder is a perfectly-constructed murder mystery involving one man’s labyrinthine plot to kill his wife while pinning the blame onto a third party. Given the delicious complexity of the plot – not so much a whodunnit as a how-can-we-possibly-prove-he-done-it – the play necessarily touches lightly on the atmosphere of postwar England. Yet like some of the finest literature of the period, it powerfully evokes a society at once overwhelmingly complacent, and full of hidden tensions and violence.
In this thoughtful touring version, with a clever revolving set that offers a series of angles on the action, Kelly Hotten turns in a thoroughly enjoyable performance as Sheila Wendice, the Hitchcock blonde and potential murder victim; Daniel Betts and Philip Cairns are sharp and convincing as her husband and lover respectively, with Christopher Timothy in outstanding form as the not-so-plodding Inspector Hubbard. And although the production, with its slow fades between scenes, offers more false interval breaks than I can ever recall seeing on the King’s stage, its brisk and enthralling second half raises the tension to fever-pitch; and sends its audience home not only thrilled, but thoroughly impressed and entertained.