Dial M for Murder spellbinds at The Rep

Can a perfect murder ever be committed, or do human frailties mean we miss tiny details that would inevitably get us caught? That is the premise for ‘Dial M for Murder’, a claustrophobic thriller by Frederick Knott that was most famously bought to life by the genius of Alfred Hitchcock and the beauty of Grace Kelly. A new production by Lucy Bailey is currently playing at The Rep theatre in Birmingham, and I went along to see how the suspense holds up 60 years after it was originally written.

The story is many layered. The glamorous Kelly Hotten plays Sheila Wendice, a once adulterous, now devoted wife of ex- tennis player Anthony Wendice. Her ex-lover Max Halliday has returned to her life after a spell as a television crime writer in New York, but she is determined to stay loyal to her husband. There is only one fly in the ointment, a love letter from Max to Sheila had been lost during the theft of her handbag a year previously, and Sheila has seemingly been blackmailed, although no money has actually been claimed. Sheila is therefore frightened that the dormant affair will be discovered, and put her now perfect marriage to Tony at risk.

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Philip Cairns (Max Halliday) and Kelly Hotten (Sheila Wendice) photo credit Manual Harlan

Unknown to Sheila, Anthony, bitter and dried up in his professional life, knows all to well about the affair, and has been plotting the demise of his wife through the perfect murder. But, as crime writer Max states, there is no such thing as the perfect murder, as human’s are often given away by the tiniest detail that they completely forget about. This proves to be the case, but the clever, calculated Tony Wendice has another plan up his perfectly tailored sleeve. Enter an Inspector with an eye for detail – will he so easily believe the perfect murder?

Kelly Hotten (Sheila Wendice) Photo credit Manual Harlan

Kelly Hotten (Sheila Wendice) Photo credit Manual Harlan

The cast of five players are uniformly excellent. Sheila is played by Kelly Hotten as a kittenish mixture of sensuality, who gradually falls apart as it becomes apparent the police don’t believe she is a victim, but a killer. Christopher Timothy exudes decency as Inspector Hubbard, a little world weary, but still having a real nose for a case that seems to good to be true. Philip Cairns as Max Halliday plays the role like a retro matinee idol, a real Hitchcock style hero who never gives up on trying to protect the leading lady. Robert Perkins is brilliantly seedy as Captain Lesgate, aka Swann, a charming bad apple who finds his past catching up with him in the most terrible way possible. A brilliant cast through and through, but it is Daniel Betts as the charming sociopath Tony Wendice who steals every scene he is in. A cold, calculating, but utterly charming character, Wendice channels the gamut of emotions, from chilling, methodical calculation as he outlines the perfect murder, to faux outraged indignation on behalf of his ‘beloved’ wife.

Christopher Timothy (Inspector Hubbard) Photo credit Manual Harlan

Christopher Timothy (Inspector Hubbard) Photo credit Manual Harlan

Daniel Betts and Kelly Hotten

Daniel Betts and Kelly Hotten

 

Everything else in note perfect in this production. This is a play that is all about the little details, and they are covered to excellent effect, from the blood red set that revolves, allowing you to watch scenes unfold from all perspectives, to the use of silence to build tension. The jazzy theme works very well, especially when it rises to crescendo at key points, and the red curtain that is pivotal to the plot leaves the audience acting almost like a voyeur.

Quite simply one of the best plays I have ever seen, Dial M for Murder is one not to be missed. It runs at the Birmingham Rep until Saturday 17th May. For ticket information, click here.

Reviewed – The Dishwashers at The REP

On Tuesday night I attended the press night for ‘The Dishwashers’ at The REP, Birmingham’s renowned Repertory theatre. The REP was launching it’s 2014 season with this clever, thought-provoking play by Morris Panych, described as ‘…a delicious play about the Zen of dishwashing’, and expectations were most definitely high, particularly with the almost legendary David Essex in the lead role. The great news is that the plays delivers in all areas.

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The play is effectively a three hander. (although I must give a nod to Jared Garfield, who makes an appearance as yet another ‘new boy’ in the final scene and is a likeable presence). Rik Makarem, recognisable to all Emmerdale fans as Nikhil Sharma, is Emmett, a once high flying city slicker now reduced to taking a job as a dishwasher in one of the very restaurants in which he used to dine. He enters into an environment ruled by the mysterious Dressler (David Essex), a kitchen sink philosopher who has happily worked amongst the grimy plates for 30 years, a ‘man without dreams’ who seems perfectly content to be so. The third cog in the kitchen is Moss (Andrew Jarvis), aged and dying, more than ready for a retirement that he doesn’t want. Together they work in the anonymous kitchen in the bowels of the restaurant, a murky, dirty place that could be (and is for Emmett) a place of despair, but is also a place of security for Moss and pride for Dressler.

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In the lead role, David Essex is an oasis of calm and control. He brings just the right amount of world weariness to the role, and is in almost every scene, playing each one perfectly. Andrew Moss brings pathos to the role of Moss, a man who seems to be teetering half way between life and death and not quite sure which path to take. The real revelation is Rik Makarem, who’s character changes the most throughout the course of the play, from optimistic to the pits of despair, and then channeled with energy at the thought of making a difference to ‘The Dishwashers’, to the final, surprise scenes. I won’t spoil them, but will say that the old adage ‘be careful what you wish for’ has never resonated more truly.

The Dishwashers is at The Rep until 15th February. Click here to visit the website.