Jonika Kinchin reviews The Perfect Murder, starring Les Dennis and showing at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, until April 12th.

I never thought I would be frightened of Les Dennis. But, as the curtain fell on the ending scene of The Perfect Murder, it was hard to get the sound of his bellowing voice and his purely terrifying (in the most literal sense) performance out of my head. I must admit I was a little bit worried about sleeping that night.

However, my sleeping was also made uneasy by finding out during the show that the so-called ‘perfect murder’ is one that we never hear about.

There are plenty of times in our lives when we say things like “I’ll kill him!” or “You’re dead!” However, we (hopefully) never actually mean it. This is not the case in Peter James’ The Perfect Murder, a novel adapted for the stage.

With a plot that mixes murder, adultery and just good old-fashioned crime, it’s a far cry from the days of Family Fortunes for Les Dennis (Spamalot, Midsomer Murders). Playing the title role of Victor Smiley, Dennis stars as a normal IT Manager who has grown increasingly tired of his marriage to wife Joan Smiley, played exquisitely by Claire Goose (Casualty, The Bill), who is also just as sick of her current situation. They both decide to resort to desperate measures in order to ‘dispose’ of their situation.

Boasting an uncanny ability to absorb the audience into the story, Dennis and Goose immediately lull us into a false sense of security. It feels like you’re sat at their kitchen table waiting to be served a cup of tea, listening to your own parents bicker about the same things normal couples fight about, such as Victor’s snoring and Joan’s choice of Television programme. Perhaps it’s the clever layout of the set combined with the cunning use and timing of lighting and sound together which makes it hard to forget that it isn’t real and you are actually in a theatre – not having dinner with the Smiley family.

It isn’t until we are introduced to Mrs Smiley’s new lover and the show’s joker Don Kirk, played by Gray O’Brien (Coronation Street, Casualty) that the laughs really kick in. As well as providing eye candy for the ladies, he offers an array of one-liners, sexual innuendos and an awful attempt at Cockney that keeps you waiting for him to strut back on stage with this Alfie Moon type character he delivers, just knowing he’s going to make you laugh.

Steven Miller (Casualty) plays the role of Peter James’ most famous character Detective Constable Roy Grace, who believes he is receiving help in solving his cases from Kamila Walcak, a Croatian born prostitute played by Simona Armstrong (Doctors) who is also Mr Smiley’s lover.

The five strong cast all play their characters superbly, each revealing different complexities in themselves as the story unravels. A mixture of quick one-liners, some impressive stage effects and an interesting ending make The Perfect Murder well worth a watch.

What disturbing situation will Mr Grace uncover at the Smiley residence? Are the couple dead serious about their threats? My lips are sealed. You’ll have to find out for yourself!