“Do you believe in the perfect murder?” “…Absolutely, on paper”
Frederick Knott’s intensely charged thriller, Dial M for Murder (famously adapted by Alfred Hitchcock) tells the story of one man’s resentment, jealousy, and greed and how quickly they escalate into murderous intentions.
Behind the seemingly smooth facade and ordinariness of the lives of a married couple lies a web of deceit and mistrust. Believing that his wife is having an affair, Tony, an ex-professional tennis player (skillfully played by Daniel Betts), meticulously plans to kill his wife, calling on the help an old school friend to commit the deed. The skill of Knott’s writing deliberately takes the audience straight into the mind of the man and his motives for killing his wife. This is not a typical ‘whodunnit’ murder mystery, instead we are given the plans behind Tony’s plotted murder from the outset and left simply to watch the chaos and lies play out helplessly.
When Tony’s carefully mapped-out intentions go awry, the tension builds to a harrowing struggle between the hired murderer and Tony’s wife. Whilst this is deliberately dramatic, it was a very overacted passage, which interrupted the fluidity between the other scenes. Despite the play’s dark undertones there were brilliantly executed moments of humour as Max (played by Philip Cares), who writes murder mystery scripts for a living, accidentally unravels the exact process by which the husband had plotted and carried out the intended murder casually dropping in “I’ve been writing this stuff for years”. Sheila’s character seemed to be simply a puzzle piece amongst the other characters, Kelly Hotten’s portrayal was solid throughout if not lacking in a little force and energy at times.
Whilst the Oxford Playhouse’s stage naturally lends itself to large-scale productions, the set’s aesthetics were particularly well executed. The blood red saturated setting was immersive and illuminating, oscillating between plush luxurious sitting room and mysterious murderous backdrop. Such a closed environment was seemingly stifling yet the revolving stage felt intensely voyeuristic.
The play was carried off with skill and ease placing us, the viewers, in a position to examine the psychology of a man driven to plot an act of extreme violence. Anchored in a skillful cast of five and coupled with the brilliance of Knott’s writing Dial M for Murder is a celebration of thriller-cum-murder mystery.