Dead Simple/Malvern Theatres

First published Tuesday 10 February 2015

by John Phillpott

IMAGINE the very worst thing that could happen to you. Then take it up notch by rack-creaking notch until you can bear the thought no longer.

Yet this is only the beginning of your torment. For you have embarked on merely the start of a journey through an infinite universe of unadulterated misery and terror…

It is no coincidence that Dead Simple writer Peter James draws heavily from the well – or perhaps we should say bottomless pit – of horror maestro Edgar Allan Poe.

I’m hopefully not giving too much of the plot away if I say this piece jarringly calls to mind the gothic ghoul’s nerve-shredding The Tell-Tale Heart, a story that triggered many a nightmare in this reviewer’s fevered childhood mind.

Poe mercilessly tapped into the Victorian dread of premature entombment and James does likewise, piling on the paranoia by the spadeful, while at the same time exploring the darkest recesses of the human condition.

His partners in crime make up a powerful cast headed by Jamie Lomas as the hapless dupe of a fiancé Michael Harrison, who knows there is something planned for his stag night but can only hope for the best.

Rik Makarem as best mate Mark Warren – I’d hate to see his worst enemy – and Michael McKell as seemingly benevolent uncle Bradley keep us guessing throughout, the latter presiding over some truly horrifying interludes, some of which inexplicably prompted yet another tedious outbreak of the famed Malvern audience’s laughter-in-inappropriate-places syndrome.

However, it is psycho bitch from hell Ashley Harper, played with an icy devotion by Tina Hobley, who confirms that woman is without doubt the deadlier of the species.

Josh Brown as mentally challenged computer geek Davey turns in some fine character acting and there are a number of entertaining buddy cop-style exchanges between investigating policemen Gray O’Brien and Marc Small which thankfully help to relieve the pressure at times.

Phew, quite a night. I left the theatre in pensive silence, testimony to the story-telling genius of Peter James. Perhaps you will, too.

Dead Simple runs until Saturday, February 14. Be there if you dare…