Dead Simple is the stage adaptation of the book of the same name by Peter James, and is on the surface the story of a stag night out prank that goes horribly wrong.
Property developer Michael Harrison (Jamie Lomas) is getting married to his ex-secretary Ashley Harper (Tina Hobley). Michael’s partner and friend from his schooldays Mark Warren (Rik Makarem) has, unknown to Michael, arranged with some friends a special stag night for him that will pay Michael back for some of his own previous pranks on friends at their stag nights.
Revenge is sweet it seems as Mark goes off on a business appointment and leaves the friends to stage a fake break-in and armed hostage taking of Michael in front of Ashley and her newly arrived from Canada for the wedding Uncle Bradley (Michael McKell). Basically, the friends eventually take Mark to a woodland plot and bury him alive in a coffin, but they do provide him with a walkie talkie and a breathing tube for air (they do not want to kill him after all) until they return to dig him up in a few hours. Things go horribly wrong, however…
Michael does not make the wedding and is reported as missing. The police become involved and the two investigating officers – DSI Roy Grace (Gray O’Brien) and DS Branson (Marc Small) begin to suspect that things may not be as “Dead Simple” as they look on the surface. DSI Roy Grace has also just been in all the news for getting the help of a psychic to help him solve a case and this has not gone down well with his superiors. The same psychic Zoe Frame (Sarah Baxendale) does make a few short appearances in helping the case.
The stage is so cleverly set tonight that it involves the audience in a very direct manner…go and see this and you wiill see what I mean, this is a classic example of how a very good set and theatrical experience can involve the audience in a way that film and television just can not do.
How good were the cast tonight though? Well Tina Hobley (Ashley) carries much of the weight of this production brilliantly (being the central character on stage most of the time) as she takes us with ease through a wide range of emotions ranging from heavy dramatic to light comedy. Rik Makerem is also excellent as Mark Warren (Michael’s business partner). Without being unkind to any of the other actors on stage tonight, it is Josh Brown in his first-ever professional theatre role as Davey Wheeler that stands out for me tonight, and that is probably because he has some of the best lines in the show. Davey has a slight learning difficulty and Josh plays this part very gently and gets maximum dramatic effect from it.
There is of course as you would expect more going on in a Peter James murder/mystery than I have told you so far, but this is all I am going to tell you as much more would just spoil the experience of the performance. I had not read the book before going to see this performance and deliberately did not do any research to find out more about the story. If you know the book then you will be pleasantly surprised at how cleverly this has been adapted for the stage. If like me you are watching the plot unfold for the first time when you go, then you are in for more than a few twists to the tale.
Review by Tom King