Dial M for Murder - directed by Ben Maples
"Front of House
On a very snowy evening, it was a relief to enter the warm and spacious hall, where we found front row seats. The programme was possibly the smallest and simplest we've seen, but that is not a criticism. It contained all the information that the audience needed - cast list, production team, where and when the action of the play happens.
This room was the living room of the Wendices' flat. There were doors to either side of the stage, one at the back and a large window, with full length curtains. A settee was centre stage, with a chair to the side, near a small table. Tennis racquets and photos decorated the walls.
These were appropriate for the 1950s. The men wore smart suits and Sheila had a selection of floral dresses. The only slight jarring note was the red, satin dressing gown that Tony wore. It looked like a lady's gown. A darker colour in a paisley pattern would have been better, though we were impressed that he was wearing slippers - a small detail that is often overlooked.
Lighting was good, the action was well lit and there were no shadows.
Sheila Wendice. Jo Fosker
In her first scene with Max, Sheila was nervous and Jo fiddled with her ring, ill at ease as she tells Max about her blackmailer. As she was being strangled, she made some horribly, realistic choking sounds and Jo really conveyed panic after Lesgate's murder, stumbling over her words. We fully believed her horror and distress at what had happened. She became more and more rattled as she was questioned by the police inspector, becoming angry and worried.
Max Halliday. Ian Russell
Ian made a good attempt at an upper class accent. He appeared quite stilted in the earlier scenes but he became much more believable after the murder. As he tried to explain how to prove Sheila's innocence, he conveyed frustration and bewilderment, with some good expressions.
Captain Lesgate. Ed Godfrey
Initially, Lesgate appears relaxed and at ease, but as he is tormented and teased by Tony, his demeanour changes. Ed became more watchful, less comfortable and his eyes looked shifty. He frowned when thinking, trying to decide whether to take up Tony's devious offer. We sensed that this was a man who was being manipulated into a desperate situation, with no hope of escape.
Inspector Hubbard. Syd Smith
Syd made an immediate impression as the seemingly genial Inspector. He closed his eyes and tapped his nose, when thinking. He became more forceful with Sheila, no longer the policeman just checking facts but a suspicious investigator. Unfortunately he then lost momentum and the climax of the piece lost its way and we were both rather confused as to what was happening.
Tony Wendice. Bruce Thomson
Bruce has a very pleasing, deep voice, and from his first entrance, we were impressed by his very natural style. The script has Tony on stage on his own several times, but Bruce moved around the set so purposefully and naturally, he was Tony Wendice, completely at ease in his living room. All of his phone conversations were excellent. Having worked out what the person he was speaking to might be saying, his expressions changed as they "spoke" to him. His reactions to what he was "hearing" made the phone calls much more realistic and powerful. His speech patterns varied, sometimes slowly drawling, sometimes speaking faster, with natural pauses. Some of his speeches are almost monologues but they were always interesting. His gestures and body language were very good. In his dealings with Lesgate, he was sneering, dismissive, taunting, always in control. He had so little respect for the other man, he frequently spoke to him without bothering to make eye contact, showing his contempt. All this while stretched out in the armchair, his body totally at ease, his mind planning murder. Bruce had a natural chuckle and could seem charming and yet gave a sense of the devious and cruel man, turning a situation, coldly and efficiently to suit his sinister intent. We were both tremendously impressed with Bruce's performance. He portrayed so many different emotions and facets of Tony's personality, all so naturally and with such realism. He interacted well with the other four characters and despite the words he may have been speaking to each of them, we knew what his real feeling were! When he interrupted them, it felt like normal conversation, when people do speak over one another. He really captured the spirit of the 1950s, in his demeanour and his pronunciation of certain words. (I noticed that garage rhymed with Raj rather than bridge. Delightfully old fashioned.) Amazing acting. Very, very well done.
This was an entertaining play, where the tension built and the pace was mostly good. Unfortunately the pace did slow in the final scene, making the explanations harder to follow. The rapport between Tony and Sheila was good, even though we knew their marriage was not all it seemed. Max and Sheila lacked any natural affection, making it hard to believe that they had been lovers. We would have liked there to still be an undercurrent of attraction there. I thought I heard the rattle of coat hangers off stage when Tony went to fetch a spare dinner jacket for Max. A very clever touch, making us believe that he had just gone through his wardrobe. I don't know whether the planned murder and the actual murder are always done behind the curtain, but this was all the more dramatic and frightening, just hearing the sounds of the struggle and Sheila being strangled. I hadn't seen the play or the film on which it is based so this was all a surprise for me!
Anne and I enjoyed our first visit to Phoenix Theatre Company. Thank you for inviting us and we wish the group every success in their future productions."
Jane Rayner and Anne Sexton-North Essex Theatre Guild