Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps, Vertigo, and now Dial M for Murder have all recently been remade for the stage. Hitchcock made Frederick Knott’s 1952 play famous with his film starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, and now the West Yorkshire Playhouse company are touring the country with their version.
When Tony discovers that his wife Sheila has had an affair, he plots to kill her and inherit her money. But the plan backfires in the most unexpected way, and it’s up to Tony to cover up the clues. All the action takes place in the couple’s living room, making it intense and voyeuristic, though we still get a good sense of the outside world with its namedropping of London locations such as Victoria station and Chelsea.
The set is sexy and chic with its blood-red drapes, seductive lighting, and jazz music. It succeeds when it sticks to its old-fashioned storytelling: having the stage revolve at key moments is misjudged. The carousel-like motion does not add to the topsy-turvy nature of this world, instead it is disrupting, messy, and gets in the way of the action.
Lucy Bailey’s direction nevertheless is superb, cleverly creating the suspense and chilling atmosphere required. She previously directed The Postman Always Rings Twice, starring Val Kilmer, for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and Julius Caesar for the Royal Shakespeare Company. And Aislin McGuckin shines in a role that Grace Kelly made famous.
The play falls down with its slow denouement, however. Since it is not simply a whodunit but a “can he get away with it?” it becomes tiresome. For classic old-school theatre, especially for those who have not seen the Hitchcock version, it is worth watching, otherwise Dial M for Mediocre.
Runs till 10 October, and tours the country including Richmond Theatre from 3 November till 7 November.
To see or not to see: * * *