Dial M for Murder
by
Frederick Knott
24 - 26 Oct 2018

Dial M for Murder, a well known and loved thriller performed by the Jubilee Players at the Tithe Barn, Horstead, started its run of three nights on Wednesday 24th October.

The play is well known and made into a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954 starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. The Jubilee Players performance provided all the intrigue and atmosphere that would be remembered from the film. The three main characters Sheila Wendice her husband Tony and Shiela’s love interest Max Halliday, played by Hannah Cunningham, Paul Skippings and Neil Sumser-Lupson, all give very convincing performances bringing the era to life. Hannah is a vulnerable Shiela not knowing how treacherous her husband can be. Paul Skippings is an excellent devious and suave Tony planning the death of his unsuspecting wife. The best laid plans can come unstuck and unravel, the audience witness this as the play shows , in the end the villain gets his come uppance when all is revealed.

A very enjoyable and entertaining evening. The Jubilee Players give a polished and professional performance, enhanced by the excellent costumes and set and also the setting of the beautiful Tithe Barn.

For those of a certain age – and the great majority of the audience were of the age – there is a resonance in the title of this piece which immediately evokes recollections of the 1950s when life was still mainly lived in black and white and the use of the death penalty was the subject of intense public debate.

Many would never seen Frederick Knott’s play in its original form and would have their memories shaped by the Hitchcock film, but this revival illustrates the point that the development of a complex plot on stage can bring the audience closer to the characters than a high tension cinematic thriller.

Ray Milland and Grace Kelly may have received great critical acclaim for their portrayals of Tony and Margot Wendice - the retired tennis star and his trophy wife - but these Jubilee Players’ performances by Paul Skippings and Hannah Cunningham carried full conviction. The clipped speech and patterned dialogue of the upper-middle class of the era set the tone for establishing that their relationship was, at best, brittle and, when the wife’s former lover – played with quiet assurance by Neil Sumser-Lupson – re-appears on the scene, his superficial acceptance by her husband is underpinned by a growing certainty among the audience that this would soon unravel.

As the tension rises, a shady, former associate of the husband is drawn into the action, Neil Philips’ edgy portrayal of the financially-motivated would-be murderer confirming that the deed would be done. The mid-play twist in the plot will not be revealed!

Responsibility for the enquiry into the confusing death fell to Chief Inspector Hubbard who, at first, appeared to have assured himself that he has a satisfactory explanation of events. Played convincingly by Graham Brakenbury, the apparently stereotypical detective is gradually revealed as possessing the imagination and initiative to delve deeper which enables him to bring about the dramatic denouement much to the relief of the audience.

Two features of this production deserve particular praise: the set was splendid, capturing the era in decor and a wide range of period props and the costume - especially of the well-heeled wife - could not have been bettered.

It is astounding that, such was the contemporary success of Dial ‘M’ for Murder, Frederick Knott wrote only two other plays and was able to spend the next fifty years living comfortably on his royalties and earnings from the Hitchcock film. The regular re-appearance of the play in the repertoire of amateur dramatic groups is a reflection of its enduring appeal and Rosalind Chamberlin’s well-paced production does full justice to what has become a theatrical classic.

Jubilee Players can always be relied upon for a good evening’s entertainment; yet again, they did not let down their audience.