An iconic movie brought to the stage

Dial M for Murder at the Underground Theatre Eastbourne
Dial M for Murder at the Underground Theatre Eastbourne

The play “Dial M for Murder” was originally written by Frederick Knott in 1952 and in 1954 he adapted it for the screen for a film version, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

The film, starring Grace Kelly, Ray Milland and Robert Cummings was a great success.

Last month at the Under Ground Theatre Steve Scott and his Bootcamp Theatre Company once again took on the challenge of transferring an iconic film to the small stage of the Under Ground Theatre.

Set in the early fifties the story revolves around five main characters, Tony Wendice (Steve Scott) a recently retired professional tennis player, his wife, Sheila (Sarah Deeas), her ex-lover Max Halliday (Jonny Parlett), a crime fiction writer recently returned to the UK from New York, Captain Lesgate (Neil James) and Chief Inspector Hubbard (Michael Keegan).

Sheila Wendice receives a visit from her former lover Max whose contract as a crime writer in the USA has not been renewed.

In the meantime Sheila has married Tony but it is apparent that not all is not well with the marriage.

Sheila tells Max that one of their love letters was stolen from her handbag at Victoria Station and she had received a blackmail note requesting the sum of £50 for its return.

She delivered the money in a package as requested but the blackmailer never turned up to collect it.

When Tony arrives home and meets Max he persuades them both to go to the Theatre without him on the excuse that he has to produce some urgent work for his boss.

When they have gone he receives a visit from someone he knew at University, Captain Lesgate, who was a bit of a cad as a youngster, but who has moved on into adult life to commit more serious crimes.

With the threat of being exposed Lesgate agrees to murder Sheila the following night for a fee of £500, quite a sum of money in those days. But the attempted murder goes wrong and Sheila , while defending herself, kills Lesgate with a pair of scissors.

From then on the play cleverly leaves the audience guessing whether Tony will get away with his plot, leaving Sheila to hang (capital punishment still existed in the fifties), or will justice be done? The expose’ at the end is cleverly revealed and ties up the plot very credibly.

All the actors coped adequately with their parts and worked well as a team.

I felt, however, that Micael Keegan was a few years too young to play the part of a senior chief police inspector, even though some effort had been made to give him some grey streaks in his hair.

He is a very good actor but lacked the gravitas which is associated with that particular part. The attempted murder scene at the end of the first act was very well performed but it was a pity that the tension that had been built up during the scene was spoilt by an anti-climax when “the body” got up and walked from the stage at the scene’s end.

It is unfortunate that the Under Ground Theatre has no curtains as the tension could have been maintained by a slow curtain coming down to finish the first act.

In the absence of a curtain a complete black-out on stage might have left the victim’s departure less noticeable, especially if “the body” had been allowed to fall further back from the front of the stage.

I appreciate that the intimacy of the Under Ground Theatre tends to make resolution of these problems more difficult and an audience will make allowances, but Bootcamp has always set a very high standard and any slippage from this becomes noticeable when one knows what good quality the company has produced in the past.

I have no doubt, however, that there are still some very good things to come from this talented company.

By Harry Lederman