Civic Theatre, Darlington – 30 March 2016
Talking Scarlet bring their latest production to Darlington. The elegant coils of murder drama that Frederick Knott contrived in his play, “Dial M for Murder,” were made famous in the pliant hands of Alfred Hitchcock, past master at the job of squeezing thrills, the coils twine with sleek and silken evil on the celluloid screen.
The dark machinations of a London husband to get his wife bumped off and then, failing that, to twist the evidence so that it looks as though she willfully murdered the man who tried to murder her are matters of wicked rationalisation rather than physical activity. The thrills come in following a succession of dawnings in people’s minds.
The set resembles an upper class, old-fashioned house. The clever use of atmospheric lighting and jazzy music to signal a time-lapse between scenes is effective. The music as a whole is very well chosen, capturing your attention with the tense story that is unfolding.
This isn’t so much a whodunnit, as the audience is in on the plan from the very beginning but watching Tony Wendice (Oliver Mellor) try to cover his tracks as his plan unravels is tense and exciting.
Terri Dwyer turns in an enjoyable performance as Sheila Wendice, the potential victim; Mellor and Marcus Hutton are sharp and convincing as her husband and lover Max respectively, with John Hester in outstanding form as the not-so-plodding Inspector Hubbard and Jolyon Young as the unfortunate Captain Lesgate.
Talking Scarlet’s production contains its fair share of electric moments. The slow-burning opening scenes may prove a little frustrating, but the drama picks up in the second act – and the final minutes, played out in half-darkness, are a study in ratcheting tension.
The actors did exactly what they should in this kind of production: they played it absolutely straight. It would have been very easy to go over the top but subtlety was what was required and so, instead of a parody, we watched a classic thriller from a slightly shifted perspective: we were able to look at Knott’s play and appreciate its strengths while finding amusement in the theatrical conventions of a much more innocent age.
This timeless thriller is a masterpiece in atmospheric staging and should not to be missed. Just make sure you don’t go alone…
In Darlington until Saturday April 2nd and on tour around the UK