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Murder most comfy on a wet night in Rugby

Dial M for Murder, Rugby Theatre, until March 10.

I learned two things during my brush with 1950s thrillers. The first is that it takes an awful long time to strangle someone; the second is that 70 years on, theatre audiences are rather more hardened to death.

Instead of gasping as heroine Sheila Wendice was being attacked, several people in the stalls seemed to be chucklling.

Not that the menace wasn't real enough - in the dark with shrieking psycho-style music provided by Polish composer Krzsztof Penderecki.

But on a wet night in the pretty Rugby Theatre it all felt so comfortably safe from harm's way. As if director Simon Burne was saying: "Come on, we're only having a bit of a laugh...."

And so we were. Once we got our heads round the twists and turns of a hugely complicated plot first made famous by that arch master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.

Sheila herself is played with style and sophistication by Tracy Seymour - I loved her frocks - and the expression on her face when she is informed by former lover Max (Dean Mills) not to worry right now but she'd be having a breakdown in the next day or two.

Dean himself could do with projecting his voice a little more, as he was occasionally hard to hear. But dastardly Tony Wendice, played by Lee Bunting, came over loud and clear as the former tennis player from back in the days when nobody got rich from the game.

As a result he apparently finds a rich wife and goes on to invent a deadly new game all of his own.

The stakes are high as Inspector Hubbard (Gary van Sluiters) calls to investigate. And immediately we can see where screenwriters of the 1970s detective series Columbo picked up a few ideas for cunning parting exit lines from Dial M's author Frederick Knott.

But then Hitchcock himself made his film in 1954 after picking up Knott's drama from its original production on BBC television. Bet nobody was chuckling in the 1950s.

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