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Dial M for Murder

Frederick Knott

12 - 19 May 2018

Derek Watts


Performances

Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm

Synopsis

Next May sees Derek Watts, for his twelfth production for the club, realise a long-held ambition. He is to direct what has become one of the most celebrated stage thrillers in history. In early 1950, Frederick Knott, holed up in a cottage next to his parents’ home in Sussex for eighteen months while his mother left his meals outside his door, crafted Dial M for Murder.

Best known for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film version, starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland, the play was first seen on BCC television in 1951, transferring to the stage a year later and opening at the Westminster Theatre in June 1952. It was an immediate smash hit. Noel Coward was a fan, applauding the fact that ‘the villain never opens his mouth in the whole play (except once) without lying’. Small wonder that the French chose the call it ‘Crime Parfait’.

However, Dial M for Murder is not just another pot-boiling, stereotypical thriller. There is no element of the ‘whodunnit’, more a question of ‘will he get away with it?’ It is a serious play and the characters in Knott’s classic are real and complex. Knott thought that its appeal for audiences was that they feel what it is like to be a murderer from the very start. Though he didn’t rate the film as one of his best, Hitchcock admired the theatricality of the piece, its claustrophobic intensity and the sheer genius of its story and plot.

Derek says, ‘I have wanted to direct the play for over twenty years. While the film is in colour, the plot and the setting is redolent of films like Basil Dearden’s The Blue Lamp (1950), starring Jack Warner and a young Dirk Bogarde, an era when Wolseley police cars raced through London with bells ringing while George Cole did a nice line in spivs, Raymond Francis, Geoffrey Stern and Michael Craig looked ultra-cool in Burberry trench coats, and the women lived in Maida Vale and looked impossibly elegant. The play has too the enigmatic, omniscient police inspector, a feature of other stage mysteries such as Gaslight and An Inspector Calls, not mention Agatha Christie’s Poirot. ‘To reinforce the aura of the B-movie, Gerry Cortese has designed an intriguing set, incorporating the atmosphere of those 1950s black and white films, which was such an expression of a genre that formed much of the backdrop to my cinematic childhood.’

‘Frederick Knott completed only three plays - Wait Until Dark too has become a classic, while Write Me a Murder, was less successful. He hated writing apparently and did it only for the money. Nonetheless, I am excited to have been afforded the chance to bring this concept to our stage, to create our version of what I believe to be the greatest stage thriller ever written.’

Audition

Audition Sat 11 November 2017 10:30am foyer

Characters

Sheila Wendice (30-45) Attractive, elegant, vulnerable.

Max Halliday (40-50) TV writer - Shelia’s love. Smoothly pleasant.

Tony Wendice (mid-30s-45) Self-assured, charming.

Captain Lesgate (40-50) Ex-military, with an air of seediness.

Inspector Hubbard (45-55) Courteous, controlled, but with ‘flashes of temperament’.

Audition pieces

Sheila, Max p.2- bottom of p.3

Tony, Lesgate p.10 (“I remember barging into…..) – bottom p.13 (“I needn’t have got so worked up after all”)

Sheila, Tony p.28 – p.30 (”I’ll phone them right away”)

Tony, Hubbard p.51 (“Oh, hullo, Inspector.”) – p.53 (“Have you a small fibre attaché case ?”)

Max, Tony, Hubbard p. 55 (“We’ll soon find out how long he’s had it”) – p. 57 (“Good-bye, Inspector, and thank you”)

Shelia, Max, Hubbard p.59 (“Hallo, Max”) – p. 61 (“Don’t make a sound”)