Dial M For Murder

Revive Theatre   Mowlem Theatre, Swanage JJ  6 May  2023


I was shocked to realise that I had never seen this well-known local theatre favourite by Frederick Knott. I was therefore delighted to have the opportunity of seeing Revive Theatre’s production at the Mowlem Theatre, Swanage. I had not been to the Mowlem for some time, and it was a pleasure to return there and sample the delights of the new Show Bar. It was wonderful to see a capacity audience.

Set in London in the 1950s, former tennis pro Terry Wendice (Dean Rawson), who married for money, finds out that his wife Margot Wendice (Charlie Baker) has been having an affair with Max Halliday (referred to in the introduction in the programme as Mark Halliday, the name given to the character in the 1954 Hitchcock film based on the play – Liam Burton). He concocts an intricate plan to have her murdered with the help of an old school colleague, Capt Lesgate (Sean Beaumont). Things do not go according to plan which leads to a cat and mouse game with the police in the form of Inspector Hubbard (Peter Beebee).

Strangely, the programme, containing biographies of the players, did not contain a cast list, which was unhelpful, particularly for a reviewer!

The set was lovely, with some thoughtful detail incorporated into it. I was especially impressed as this was only for a one-night performance at the Mowlem. I do understand the challenges of being completely comfortable on a stage when it is only for one night and the next performance is on a different stage and this factor provides some context for my subsequent comments.

Individually all actors performed very well. However, at times there was chemistry missing between the three main characters particularly when working in pairs. This occasionally challenged the credibility of the relationships between them. The scene change in Act 1, which I appreciate required a full costume change for Dean, left the audience sitting in darkness far too long.

Terry Wendice and Margot Wendice are referred to online as ‘star vehicle’ parts and they certainly are substantial roles requiring an array of emotions. Dean gave a strong and confident performance as Terry, though I would have preferred to see more of the self-assured machismo arrogance I would have expected of a former professional sportsman. His accent did slip a couple of times as did his volume and projection, especially when further upstage, so some lines were lost. Charlie was also strong as Margot, though her volume and projection suffered throughout so a number of her lines were lost.

Liam was a strong support as Max, but I would have liked to see more passion, particularly in Act 2. Peter provided a solid, reliable and likeable performance as the Inspector. Sean had a thankless task in Capt Lesgate, largely a functional and mechanical plot device. However, his comfortable natural performance made the part more interesting than that scripted.

The costumes did not quite work. I was not convinced they were all in period and they seemed inconsistent. The play was, however, very well directed by Richard Batt with characters not masking each other or finding themselves regularly having to deliver lines upstage.

In the programme, Richard states the laudable mission statement of Revive to deliver “high quality performances that will stay with our audiences long after they have left the theatre.” I want them to achieve this, which is why I am being a little picky! This was a good show, but to be great the smallest of details need to be spot on.

The play moves to the Tivoli in Wimborne on Friday 12 May and Saturday 13 May (matinee and evening). I would recommend you go and see it, but hurry as I understand Friday is almost sold out!