I do like a bit of good writing for the stage. Normally when the word ‘thriller’ is attached to a stage production my heart sinks at the prospect of yet another Christie or Rendell penned bit of tedium that never breaks out from two dimensional turgidity and depends on character shifts that are psychologically impossible. This is different.

We have a simple, elegant and always credible cast of just five characters portrayed by four actors. While we keep finding out new aspects to each character this happens slowly and believably as the action unfolds. None of them are perfect, but all have something that we might recognise in ourselves (except the murdering bit of course – probably).

It is clear from the very start that a tension exists that will build to a dramatic conclusion, as we learn about the love triangle at the heart of the story and find that each of the strong characters involved is resolute in their intention. Margot Wendice (Sally Bretton) married her husband Tony (Tom Chambers) when he was a rising tennis star, and she a wealthy heiress. Meanwhile she has had an affair with scriptwriter Max Halliday (Michael Salami) who as the play starts has just returned from a year of murder writing for US TV. But she has found her husband more suitable and supportive lately, even though she thinks him unaware of her affair. But life is never that simple. Blackmail, theft, deception, revenge and murder are all crowding into this deceptively simple tale.

The fourth cast member, Christopher Harper, plays two very different roles, first as the estranged school chum of Tony, then the doggedly perceptive police inspector Hubbard. Director Anthony Banks has created a claustrophobic closed environment in the Maida Vale flat where all the action occurs. The nastiest things seem to happen in the nicest of places. Each cast member gives us a distinctly drawn and believable character to reinforce the constrained context of the events shown.

Writer Frederick Knott grafted to write a play that was widely rejected until the BBC took it up, since then a Hitchcock film and many stage iterations have shown the strength of this fine script. This version will not disappoint, indeed this cast have created a definitive production of a long-popular classic. Sir Walter Scott memorably said ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive’, a quote that I am sure was above Frederick Knott’s desk as he created this stage masterpiece. Norwich Theatre Royal is back to business as normal after a frantic panto season, and off to a flying start with this enjoyable production.

© Julian Swainson 2020

Dial M for Murder is at Norwich Theatre Royal, Tuesday 21 to Saturday 25 January, 2020. Eves 7.30pm. Wed, Thu & Sat matinee 2.30pm. Tickets £10-£33.50. Discounts for Friends, Over 60s, Under 18s and Groups. For more info or to BOOK ONLINE www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

For more info or to BOOK ONLINE www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk