Sunday, 29 September 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: Dial M For Murder - PADOS Studio Theatre, Prestwich, Manchester.


Famous as a 1954 Hitchcock movie thriller, the stage version is a Frederick Knott play and was a post war theatre hit. The plot is: faded tennis star Tony Wendice discovers his wealthy wife has rekindled an old affair with TV screen murder writer (Halliday) so he blackmails an old school acquaintance (Lesgate) to kill her for the inheritance. Unluckily, the murder attempt goes wrong leaving Wendice to hatch a cunning plan to cover his tracks. The suspicious Inspector Hubbard smells a rat and as the plot twists and turns we watch as Wendice wriggles and twists. Will the true villain be discovered before his wife hangs?

PADOS once again produced a quality piece of drama in their unique space. They mesmeriseand astound with the sets that they constantly create in their year-round season with astonishing levels of design and ingenuity for a tight staging space. They always succeed in suspending the audience’s belief to draw them into the time and place of the play. George Bellis and team have produced a beautiful living space in a wealthy Maida Vale basement apartment complete with French windows and a rear hallway and entrance to the apartment. The furniture and decor was completely in keeping with the period and with a detailed interior of Wendice’s tennis memorabilia, trophies and photographs, this really established the couple's background.

Lighting by Rob Armstrong was detailed and atmospheric and created suspense for the murder scene as Lesgate/Swann lurked behind the curtain waiting for Mrs Wendice to unwittingly enter from her bedroom. A shadowy lighting mood of dark suspense for Wendice’s phone call to the murderer also impressed.

Director Ian Taylor had drawn out some fine characterisations from his actors with clear pauses to build mood. My favourite scene was the meeting of Wendice as he invited unsuspecting Captain Lesgate (Rob Livesey) to discuss the sale of a car and revealed his true agenda. The chemistry between James Haslam’s Wendice and his former school acquaintance Lesgate (who is really Swann) was tangible. Their little looks and chess-like meeting was moody and tense with a superficial pleasantry but with dark undertones. I also felt another subtext of public school boys and secret, long-buried histories with a knowing, yet unspoken language displayed in their body language as they smoked and drank together. Haslam’s cold and calculating persona gave me the chills driven by monetary gain and no conscience for his plan to have his wife killed. The director had created a scene which set up the rest of the play’s standard and style. Livesey portrayed a small-time crook who inadvertently gets drawn into something way beyond him with panache and his moustache matched his need to constantly shift alias perfectly.

Sara Brockway’s glamorous wife, Sheila, looked every bit the part as a wealthy wife of a former tennis star. Her indiscretion with Halliday and her subsequent loss of a love letter is the vehicle for her being blackmailed. Brockway showed all the facets necessary; glamorous and kept, manipulative and wheedling to conceal her adultery, and then confused, hurt, and distraught at being almost strangled to death! She demonstrated a control of the ilk that we see in movies of the era and her loyalty to her husband was sincere and coy. Her final scene when she is used as a dupe to lure her husband showed her demise and distress as everything she thought was true collapsed around her was very well done. A great performance.

Her lover, Halliday, played by Jack Martin, was a lovely foil for the cold husband. Martin has warmth and intelligence and as a crime writer his looks and pensive facial expressions showed that he was slowly figuring it out and it is he that is the key to coming up with a plausible explanation as to the true motivation why of Sheila’s murderer was really there!

Lastly, and by no means least, PADOS's  stalwart, award-winning pantomime Dame, Simon Fletcher showed that he has more than one acting style in his repertoire and gave a sterling turn as Inspector Hubbard. Reminiscent of Columbo (it may have been the raincoat) he mused with Wendice at the things that puzzled him and didn’t quite fit the alibis. I almost hoped he would say "Just one more thing" but of course he didn’t. Simon had gravitas and a plausibility which had me wanting to cheer when he solved the case and set Wendice up in the final scene. A great characterisation.

Again, PADOS have produced a quality piece of theatre which left the capacity audience highly entertained as part of this weekend’s Prestwich Art Festival.

The play has a variety of blackouts which were not just covered with music but had a perfectly selected tasting menu of musical interludes which reminded me of movies and underscores of the time. They were just perfect and really added to the entertainment and all round quality of this production.

The play is on all next week and I believe there are still a few tickets available. If you are lucky, you might get one for a treat of an evening.

Reviewer - Kathryn Gorton
on - 28/9/19

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