Dial M for Murder combines style and comedy in farcical Playhouse thriller

By Jess Flaherty

Almost 70 years after Alfred Hitchcock's crime mystery thriller film rocked audiences, the stage production finally makes its way to the boards of the Playhouse Theatre.

The new production of Frederick Knott's stage and screenplay is directed by Anthony Banks, making a much anticipated return after being halted last year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The director is no stranger to thrillers, with Dial M for Murder adding to a CV that includes Gaslight and Strangers on a Train, as well as hit book turned film turned play The Girl on the Train, which continues to tour the UK.

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Taking over the iconic stage of the Liverpool Playhouse with a smart set, the 1950s-penned text doesn't state a specific time frame so Banks has chosen to root his production in 1963.

The one room play is littered with stylish nods to the 60s, effectively transporting the audience from the modern day to the retro living room of a very troubled married couple - complete with rotary dial telephones and televised Saturday night theatre.

Banks said: "It feels contemporary because furniture shops now are full of Sputnik lamps with balls shooting out of them, L-shaped sofas and 60s-style patterns on curtains and upholstery, plus suits and dresses have a very 60s cut."

The play stars X Factor alum Diana Vickers as Margot, a woman embarking on an affair with crime writer Max Halliday, played by Hollyoaks star Michael Salami.

Salami does a brilliant job of portraying love-struck energy without being saccharine while Vickers plays fear and anxiety well, but doesn't offer much in early scenes.

Holby City and Casualty star Tom Chambers stars as Margot's charismatic and manipulative husband, Tony Wendice. The Strictly Come Dancing winner is incredible as the jaded ex-tennis pro who has given it all up for wife Margot, only to discover she has been unfaithful.

Chambers lights up the stage, regularly stealing scenes with his comedic, faux-charming energy, while Tony's callous and vindictive nature effectively bubbles beneath the facade of a caring, cocktail loving husband. His quest for revenge leads him to pursue the "perfect crime".

The cast of four is complete with the excellent Christopher Harper, doubling up as Captain Lesgate, the con man hired to commit the crime, and the relentless Inspector Hubbard, who ensures the second act maintains pace with humorous and almost knowing winks to the audience.

Dial M for Murder is practically farcical in its comedy but the cast and crew are in on it, bringing the audience along for the ride. It does start slow but it really picks up once the pieces all fall into place.

Diana Vickers as Margot Wendice in Dial M for Murder at the Playhouse Theatre (Manuel Harlan/Press handout)

The tête-à-tête between a desperately unravelling Tony and a delightfully determined Inspector Hubbard makes for excellent viewing, though it does ensure the second act is significantly more enjoyable than the first.

Of live theatre, director Anthony Banks said: "You can't beat it. That shared experience is so much better if it's live because it's much more visceral, whether it's through suspense and tension or the collective release that comes from the comedic moments."

The audience at the Playhouse were enraptured by this classic comedy thriller, proving the director right.

Dial M for Murder is at the Playhouse Theatre, L1 1EL, from Tuesday, September 14 until Saturday, September 18. You can buy tickets here.

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