“Dial ‘M’ for Murder” takes the stage

Eleanor Dearman

It was Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with the candlestick. 

The theater department’s production of “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” by Frederick Knott is a classic murder mystery with a twist. This British classic was made famous by the Alfred Hitchock film by the same name.

“Dial ‘M’ for Murder” tells the story of Tony Wendice, a man who hires Captain Lesgate (aka Charles Swann) to murder his wife Margot because he discovered her affair with American crime novelist Mark Halliday. The plot seems simple enough, but it goes horribly awry. 

“The story is very intriguing because it is a whodunit in reverse,” said Brant Pope, director of the play and head of the University’s department of theatre and dance. “In this play we know early on who did it, the real question is if he will get away with it. My approach to it was to tell that story well. It’s very intriguing. It’s fun to watch.”

The play’s complex plot, classical style and wide audience appeal made it an exciting show for Pope to direct. 

“It’s both a really good audience piece that the audience will enjoy and it’s really good training for all of our students — actors, designers and technicians,” Pope said. 

When selecting the season, Pope and the other theater faculty members created a season with a lot of variation.

“A season has to be balanced to give your audience and students different kinds of experiences,” Pope said. “So ‘Dial “M” for Murder’ is a classic. It’s a famous play that is traditional in the best sense of the word.”

Theater senior Sean Moran, who plays Captain Lesgate, said he is excited to be involved in such a classic play that contrasts the more abstract plays often seen in Austin. 

“The theater department is just coming out of the Cohen New Works Festival,” Moran said. “It’s been a lot of new and experimental pieces and this is just a return to very stately theater. To have a very traditional play, with a very traditional set and structure is really refreshing to see.” 

The department held auditions for all fall shows earlier this year, and rehearsals began the last week of August. The “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” cast is composed of mostly undergraduate theater students with the exception of one graduate student, Ryan Belock, who plays Mark Halliday. 

“I’d urge people, especially in the university community, to come see the show because it’s your peers,” Moran said. “It’s a mostly undergrad cast, and being able to see people in your age range doing the kind of things you’d only expect professional actors to do is really encouraging for people who want to step into the arts.” 

Even though “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” called for a prescribed style of acting that required the cast to explore and experiment, the play remains a traditional theater piece at its core.

“It’s just a really great night of theater, and I mean theater in all of its facets,” Belock said. “It’s beautiful design work, beautiful direction, and it’s incredible talent on and off stage. Especially for people who have seen the movie, this is a new, fresh look at ‘Dial “M” for Murder.’”