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Dial M for Murder @ Richmond Theatre

| Culture, Theatre | 04/04/2014

Daniel Betts and Kelly Hotten
Daniel Betts and Kelly Hotten

You may think that taking on a legendary film maker and a major if not quite a landmark moment in cinema would make any theatre director wary. Not Lisa Bailey. Though what we’re left with is a shadow of the movie. Remarkable, when the play is billed with the Hitchcock suffix and this is not the film version as adapted by its playwright Frederick Knott. Nothing to do with Hitchcock, though we can see why he was so drawn.

It’s surprising that the men let the leading lady down, as if wary of disallowing her her moment, although Philip Cairns as the boyfriend appears well suited. Their purposeful underplaying exposes the mechanical devices of a plot that necessitate well-oiled performances. And they are. But. The weaselly Lesgate of the screen is replaced by Robert Perkin’s over-jolly, over-sure version… no tension, no spark from the dark exchanges that set the piece up. Likewise, Daniel Betts’ portrayal as a matter-of-fact schemer is no rejuvenation of the greasy sneakiness of Ray Milland.

Christopher Timothy

Christopher Timothy

The murder scene, superbly choreographed by Philip d’Orléans, is the one element overplayed if genuinely effective. Kelly Hotten is brilliant in the aftermath. And terrific throughout, more than filling her namesake’s fêted footwear. Awaited gravitas in the form of Christopher Timothy proves, again, surprisingly dour. If masterfully measured, the role would befit a dash of staginess or even campiness. In contrast, the pared-back, jazzily ‘unscored’ score by a Mic Pool is menacingly moody. Mike Britton’s set is a triumph, a play in itself of shadow puppetry twisting upon a stunningly effective rotation-stage.

I enjoyed this production because I am passionate about film, and love Hitchcock, and delight in viewing such variegations. Evidently, the movie retains its resilience. Is it possible that the stage can avoid filmic and stylistic references?

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