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Theatre review

Dial M For Murder

Dial M For Murder

King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

The scarlet drapes that hang down centre-stage, surrounded by vivid rouge-flamed walls, hide a multitude of sins at the start of Lucy Bailey's touring revival of her 2009 production of Frederick Knott's labyrinthine 1950s pot-boiler immortalised in Alfred Hitchcock's film.

Such ravishing decor might well be engulfing an opulently realised Greek tragedy if it weren't for the elegant London townhouse accoutrements and a tellingly red telephone that screams emergency as it furnishes the scene of the crime.

But that crime isn't one of passion. As retired tennis star Tony Wendice plots to murder his faithless wife Sheila (Kelly Hotten), who has been conducting a long-distance amour with Philip Cairns' crime writer Max, it is one of pathologically driven, ice-cold calculation. That Tony blackmails an old school chum turned conman to do the deed by proxy only serves to make it nastier, as though the flesh and blood of such an action is something Daniel Betts' flint-eyed Tony finds physically repulsive.

When things go wrong, it takes Christopher Timothy's Inspector Hubbard to find the key that makes sense of the affair.

While it is occasionally hard to take Knott's stiff-upper-lipped exchanges seriously, casting Max as a crime writer lends things a self-reflective edge that's easy to theatricalise. At times the action is half-hidden by he slowly revolving and exquisitely choreographed drapes. During the murder scene, meanwhile, Mic Pool's brooding, trumpet-led underscore ups the volume to become something more jagged, with Sheila's amplified gasps blending in with stabbing staccato passages worthy of Bernard Herrmann in a psycho-sexual thriller in which the tension is heightened to the max.

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