Deliciously enjoyable

By Alan Wallcroft

Review – THE PERFECT MURDER at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Monday, February 10 to Saturday, February 15, 2014.

NO doubt there has been the perfect murder, even murders, committed over the years.

Crime novelist Peter James says his research around the world would suggest so, particularly as one police chief implied as much when he told him – ‘It’s the one we never hear about.’

So just how perfect would it need to be?

Well here’s a pretty perfect offering from the first of his works to be adapted for the stage in which a fresh-faced Detective Constable Roy Grace stumbles upon his first murder case during a routine investigation at a brothel with a psychic hooker.

Les Dennis and Claire Goose feature as a bickering couple, Victor and Joan, who obviously want out of their long marriage and it’s equally obvious they won’t be going via the divorce court – especially as both are avid crime fans be it via books or television series.

They make it a deliciously enjoyable comedy-thriller with their scheming and cut and thrust – although, as Joan describes their relationship, it’s now ‘more cutting and less thrusting.’

They find a solution to that little problem elsewhere – which involves the brothel, as well as a taxi driver – but bumping each other off is not quite so simple. Victor’s plans are mightily meticulous while Joan’s plans are mendaciously malicious.

Who is likely to strike first? Joan, who Goose ensures is magnificently bitchy, or Dennis, whose Victor is delightfully grumpy. Initial sympathy for Joan as we quickly learn of hubby’s relationship with Kamila from Croatia evaporates when it becomes clear he has ‘needled’ her once too often.

It’s menacing at times with a few moments that make you jump, but there is quite an injection of comedy throughout with one wonderful highlight involving a body, black bin bags and grey ducting tape.

There’s a nice pace about the play and the dialogue assisted by a first rate set that makes full use of the stage to enable the scenes to neatly fold into each other. Plenty of twists and turns too to ensure you have to tramp through all the clues.

Just a handful in the cast, literally, and although Grace isn’t the main character Steven Miller slots neatly into the role with a strong portrayal. Grace might even be regarded as an irrelevance as events unfold but he is necessary to help facilitate the perfect end. Gray O’Brien is enjoyably amusing as the lover with a sprinkling of absurd rhyming slang, while Simona Armstrong was more than impressive as kindly Kamila.

It’s quite obvious there are lots of Peter James fans out there as his book sales and a near full-house bear witness – but no actual witness to the perfect murder. What they will quite make of Shaun McKenna’s adaptation is yet to be ascertained. James himself is more than satisfied and says he has added new dimensions while still keeping faith with the original.

It is a fine theatrical offering and while far from demanding there is plenty to enjoy. Good fun but whatever you do – don’t forget to decline any offer of macaroons!