Retired tennis player Tony (Tom Chambers) hatches a plan to murder his society wife Margot (Diana Vickers) in revenge for her affair with film script writer Max (Michael Salami), requiring Inspector Hubbard (Christopher Harper) to investigate the ensuing proceedings. But that’s enough of the plot of this early genre-defining murder mystery – there are no spoilers here.
For a show that takes a telephony reference for its title – NB. for younger audience members, the letter M was included with the number 6 on an old-style telephone dial – it is no surprise that the telephone, positioned centre stage, has an important role in this play. A pity that the sound effect of the telephone ringing is rather underwhelming and that the too similar sound of the doorbell, on occasions, causes confusion.
All the action takes place in the living room of Tony and Margot’s Maida Vale flat (Designer David Woodhead). A large sofa takes up centre stage, the front door to the apartment at the rear and a pair of French windows to the side leading out past some fine-looking greenery into the sun-lit garden. It is up to Margot and the semi-undressed Max to set the scene for us. With a lot of narrative to get through, and whilst facing up-stage, some of Michael Salami’s diction is not completely clear. Diana Vickers’ performance is sublime. Her text is beautifully precise and, over the course of the evening, we see her turn convincingly through a range of emotions from the alluringly flirtatious to the hysterically distraught.
It is mentioned that Margot enjoys staying in to watch plays on TV, which is a nice touch as this play by Frederick Knott received its first public airing as an episode of BBC Sunday-Night Theatre back in 1952. It was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film adaptation, with a BAFTA winning performance by Grace Kelly, that brought fame to the play and the lighting design (Lizzie Powell) pays homage to this with beautifully cast shadow effects onto the white walls. Another effect of dipping the central lighting in the room at particular moments in the narrative is less successful.
Director Anthony Banks moves his four actors around the stage – circumnavigating the central sofa – with skill and dexterity. Tom Chambers’ pointed features and angular movements lift his character directly from the pages of a graphic novel. If he doesn’t always appear callous enough for his proposed actions, there is one exquisitely foreboding moment as his false smile turns in slow motion into a rictus grin whilst an unseen clock ticks loudly down the seconds.
Christopher Harper, playing a double role, first appears as Captain Lesgate – suave and debonair but with a chequered history – before taking on the dogged figure of Inspector Hubbard. Played in the tradition of the all-knowing detective, Harper’s performance is compelling. With nervous energy and vocal trickery, the Inspector’s after-thoughts are, of course, the crux to detecting the calumny and the audience wills him on to uncover the truth.
This play is a most enjoyable light entertainment and, despite the word Murder in its title, an amiable drama with more than a few laughs and with only a little threat to the watching audience.
Reviewed by Phillip Money
Photography by Matt Cawrey
Dial M for Murder
Cambridge Arts Theatre until 9th October then UK Tour continues
“The book and score are entirely forgettable; the rhymes from a Hallmark card and devoid of wit or charm”
In 1996, eight years after the now legendary film, starring Tom Hanks, hit American screens, Big – The Musical premiered on Broadway. Nearly 25 years later, Morgan Young, director, choreographer and chief architect of this Dominion production, has finally realised his dream to bring it to the London stage. It has not aged well. Despite the inordinate amount of money clearly spent on this production, and a few very good performances, the whole show seems distinctly creaky, and slightly tawdry too, like a ride at a cheap fairground on which you slightly fear for your safety.
The story is that of 12 year old Josh Baskin (Jay McGuiness), who, sick of being small, makes a wish at a travelling carnival to be big, and wakes up in the morning with the body of a full-grown man. Fleeing from his terrified mother (Wendi Peters), who fails to recognise him, and with the aid of his best friend Billy (Jobe Hart in last night’s performance), he winds up in New York, where he rises to success at an ailing toy company owned by George MacMillan (Matthew Kelly), getting romantically entangled with Susan (Kimberley Walsh) along the way, before returning to his real age and his home. It’s a fairly slight tale, and the message, such as it is, is sentimental stuff – hang on to your childhood, don’t grow up too fast, and bring the honesty and playfulness of childhood into your adult life. Grown-ups get a pretty bad press in this fable all in all; the apogee of this being the dreadful yuppie dinner party in act two, in which, inexplicably, the supporting men appear to be dressed as versions of Alan Partridge. Sophisticated it isn’t; that quality being distinctly off-message it would appear.
The overall look of the show is disappointing, and the decision to use huge video screens as the centre piece of each scene is a mistake. It distracts from and deadens the action, and also, importantly, takes away from any attempt at intimacy. We are always at a big stadium gig, even in the show’s more tender moments, which serves them badly. The lighting doesn’t help either. All of which underlines the question continually in mind – ‘Why is this a musical?’. It feels like a musical by numbers because that’s exactly what it is. A traditional musical structure has been superimposed on a film narrative. And it doesn’t work. The book and score are entirely forgettable; the rhymes from a Hallmark card and devoid of wit or charm. The only moments to draw widespread audience laughter are in the spoken dialogue. Not a good sign.
The principals are well-cast and work hard. Jay McGuiness perfectly embodies the child-in-man Josh; Kimberley Walsh softens beautifully from power-dressed executive to the girl looking for love she so clearly is, and Matthew Kelly gives a tremendous turn as Macmillan. Wendi Peters is a consummate professional and lends performance oomph to a pretty scant role, but, as with the kids in the cast, she is of the strident MT singing style, which arguably runs counter to emotional depth. Jobe Hart did, however, stand out as Billy last night and most certainly has a musical theatre future. It’s a shame that all this professionalism serves such an underwhelming show.
Finally, it is more than disappointing to see an all-white adult chorus in a West End musical in 2019 (representing the working population of NEW YORK!), as it is to see the only transvestite/transexual character equated with the rotten underbelly of the city. Theatre at this level has no excuse not to do better.