(reviewed at the Frinton Summer Theatre on 12 July)
Some of the audience know the plot before the play even starts. Perhaps from its original television production, other staged presentations or the famous film version. As with any classic, there are always those who come fresh to it, without preconceptions or memories.
The trick is to make it all fresh for those who are renewing acquaintance with an old friend and both comprehensible and engaging for those who are are newcomers to the plot. Frederick Knott’s Dial ‘M’ For Murder has been given a stylish production by Mike Harris, strongly aided by designer Florence Hazard, for the opening of the 77th Frinton Summer Theatre season.
Scarlet and grey is the colour palette, reflecting both underhand doings and the moral ambiguity of the main characters. The set is symbolic, rather than realistic, with Jacob Dyer’s sound design reminiscent of a film score and all the ambient noises associated with it. Costumes suggest the 1950s and early 60s.
Izabella Urbanowitz flames as Sheila, wealthy wife of former tennis star Tony (Cary Crankson). Julian Mack plays her former lover writer Max; it is made clear that neither man is really a success in his chosen profession. Sam Donnelly oozes sleaze as decaying army officer Lesgate and Kieron Jecchinis makes a dapper, no-nonsense Inspectot Hubbard.
The McGrigor Hall is not large and has good acoustics, so the dialogue of the initial scenes wee enunciated too loudly, though this calmed down as the evening progressed. The stylised set, just hinting at the all-important staircase outside the Wendices’ flat and the other rooms inside it, is matched by a minimal use of props and some intriguing lighting effects by Pip Thurlow.
Thrillers on stage are usually given a naturalistic treatment. This approach by Harris, Hazard, Dyer and Thurlow works well and, by making the audience use its own imagination to bolster that of the creative team, proves a thoroughly successful approach to a classic which can sometimes seem to be an ageing warhorse.
Dial ‘M’ For Murder runs at the Frinton Summer Theatre until 16 July. The season of six contrasted plays continues until 28 August.