Robert Perkins talks Dial M For Murder

Robert Perkins in Dial M For Murder. Pic: Comp
Robert Perkins in Dial M For Murder. Pic: Comp
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‘IT’S not a whodunit because you find out who did it fairly early on. It’s a... how-did-they-do-it.”

Actor Robert Perkins is chatting ahead of the Capital run of Dial M For Murder, which opens at the King’s Theatre this evening, for a week long run.

Starring Christopher Timothy - best known as James Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small and Mac McGuire in the BBC soap Doctors - as Inspector Hubbard, the piece has been playing to House Full signs around the country, if anything, testament to audiences’ unyielding addiction to all things crime related.

Indeed, it is just one of two thrillers gracing the current King’s season, Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee, starring Robert Powell as Hercule Poirot, runs from 24 to 29 March. So what is the attraction?

With Dial M For Murder, it is simple says, Perkins. “We’ve had a few sell-out performances so far. It is incredible. It must be down to the film, that and Christopher Timothy being the wonderful star that he is.

“But I think having seen the film, people are intrigued to see what it is like on the stage.”

Dial M For Murder actually started life on the small screen, premiering in 1952 on BBC television, before being staged in London’s West End later that year, and then opening on Broadway in New York a couple of months on.

Set in the living-room of 61A Charrington Gardens, Maida Vale, the flat shared by Tony Wendice and his wife Margot, Dial M For Murder is best known through Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 movie adaptation.

Written by Frederick Knott, it tells the story of Wendice, who arranges to have his wife murdered.

Convinced she is having an affair, he plans the perfect murder until, suddenly, it falters in a most unexpected way.

“I’d seen the film but didn’t watch it again,” reveals Perkins.

“It’s always a bit dangerous to study a film before you take it on to the stage as it can take you down a wrong avenue, especially if the director has slightly different vision,” he says.

Perkins, whose TV credits include Emmerdale, Law & Order and Midsomer Murders, among others, plays the murderous husband and believes that, by its very nature, the stage play is a very different beast to the big screen version.

“It has to be, although this production is quite filmic in its essence, which is a very clever thing director Lucy Bailey has done,” he says.

“It’s incredibly fast-paced. It has to be. We worked on that in rehearsals, you have to keep the audience thinking, thinking, thinking.

“As soon as you drop the ball, it’s over. You haven’t got any room for error in this play.”

Which brings us nicely to his first visit to the Capital back in the early 1990s when, during one performance, it’s safe to say there was more than the odd error.

Perkins came to town to play Riff Raff, in The Rocky Horror Show, and was on stage the night the cult musical’s creator, Richard O’Brien, decided he would make a last-minute, guest appearance as Frank N Furter, the lead role.

With limited time to rehearse it proved a test of mettle for all involved.

“I was there the night he came on as Frank N Furter,” laughs Perkins, nervously.

“From what I recall it was scary. Playing Riff, I had a lot of stuff with him on stage and... oh crikey.”

With O’Brien ad-libbing his way through the show, that performance has gone down in Rocky Horror history as the night you ‘had to be there’.

“It was a good lesson to keep you on your toes,” agrees Perkins, who today produces as well acting.

“It’s nice to be in the privileged position of being able to do both,” he says.

“When you are on tour you have all day to yourself and I like to be busy. So, we’ve got a six-month tour ahead, which means a lot of free time. That is great as it lets me set stuff up and get other things going.”

The evenings, of course, will be reserved for plotting the perfect murder, and, 62 years after it first opened, it appears Dial M For Murder continues to capture the imagination.

“It’s down to the writing,” insists Perkins. “Frederick Knott must have gone over and over and over the plot. It is so intricate but completely faultless. That is what keeps the audience going.

“The tension he creates in the writing is exceptional. He allows the audience to be slightly one step ahead, but not quite enough. They just get it when the next little plot twist comes along.

“It really is a fascinating world that he has created when you consider that, ultimately, we are talking about murder. Something quite ghastly... yet it intrigues us so.”

Dial M For Murder, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, tonight-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £14-£29.50, 0131-529 6000