Tom Chambers: Dial M for Murder at Norwich Theatre Royal
PUBLISHED: 13:41 20 December 2019 | UPDATED: 15:53 30 January 2020
It’s a welcome return to Norwich Theatre Royal for Tom Chambers
Can you ever get away with the perfect crime? It's a question that has been vexing Tom Chambers lately. Fans of the charming winner of Strictly Come Dancing and graceful star of recent productions of wholesome Hollywood musicals need not worry; Tom is not planning a criminal career anytime soon.
Instead, rehearsals for his role in the classic theatre noir Dial M For Murder which comes to Norwich's Theatre Royal this month, have caused Tom to reflect on how easy it can be to fall victim to a crime. In the play, made world-famous by Hitchcock's iconic 1954 movie adaptation, Tom stars as the charismatic and manipulative Tony Wendice, a jaded ex-tennis pro who has given it all up for his wife Margot, played by Sally Bretton (Not Going Out, Death In Paradise).
When he discovers Margot has been unfaithful his mind turns to revenge and the pursuit of the 'perfect crime'.
"The thing that attracted me the most [to the role] was that I've been subject to a scam over the phone," says Tom. "It was meant to be from a reputable company.
"He told me to go onto the computer and log in and put a code in and then check a few things. I thought, I'm quite savvy, I'm quite techy, I understand technology and all that sort of thing but what frightened me was that this person was able to convince me because they act almost like you're their best friend - they sound so legitimate," says Tom.
"They just sound friendly. They sound so pure, genuine, that nowadays I think that's the new thing. In the past you think, 'oh I can spot that wheeler dealer, I can tell by the look of him, you can smell it coming, you can hear it in their voice.'
"It's almost an awareness of just being careful who you're talking to. You almost have to self-police your own thoughts.
"'Is this genuine?' You've got to question things." In a fresh age of what Tom calls 'the master of disguise', he was intrigued by the challenge of playing a character that appears charming and charismatic on the surface and might at first elicit some sympathy from the audience - albeit against their better judgement.
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"I want the audience to really struggle in that they might actually feel sorry for him because there are two sides to everything.
"The audience might actually think 'I really, actually feel sorry for this person. I can understand why he wanted passionately to do this; it's not right but at least I can understand why.'"
Tom had cause to reflect on how people who are capable of doing terrible things can appear, at face value, to be very ordinary. While filming, with Nigel Havers, an episode of Midsomer Murders Havers recounted his experience of visiting court in 1981 to watch his father, barrister Sir Michael Havers, prosecute the Yorkshire Ripper case.
"He went in to watch the case as it was unravelling and he said you would not know from the sound of this man. If you met him in the street you would never think he was capable of doing what he did. And that should be the same really for Tony."
The new touring production of Dial M For Murder is based on Frederick Knott's early 1950s stage play. The only variation on the original is that the action now takes place a decade later allowing director Anthony Banks to bring a more 1960s flavour to the costumes and set décor.
Despite being written almost 70 years ago, Tom says Knott's play is timeless, even contemporary given the enduring popularity of murder mystery shows on television.
Further, for a man steeped in dance, he found something rhythmic about the "remarkable" script. "If something has been really well-written, directed, a good cast, then it's almost like a piece of choreographed music.
The dialogue flows, the timing, the pauses and the rhythm." Winning Strictly Come Dancing in December 2008 opened the doors to a career in stage musicals, including playing the role made famous by his childhood hero Fred Astaire in Top Hat which came to Norwich Theatre Royal in 2011. He returned to Norwich in the autumn of 2017 with a production of Gershwin's Crazy For You.
He has a great deal of affection for the city: "I love the atmosphere in Norwich. I like going into the restaurant between shows. I'm a big fan of Norwich, so I'm looking forward to it."
Dial M For Murder is far from Tom's only dramatic role since his Strictly success. Among other roles, he appeared as a police inspector in 25 episodes of Father Brown, the BBC's long-running comedy-drama about a crime-solving priest.
He also starred as executive headmaster Max Tyler in BBC school drama Waterloo Road and more recently reprised his first starring role on television, Sam Strachan from Holby City - this time in sister show Casualty.
Dial M For Murder comes to Theatre Royal, Norwich from Monday, January 20 - Saturday January 25.