Writer: Shaun McKenna from the novel by Peter James
Director: Ian Talbot
Designer: Michael Holt
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
Crime is the most popular genre of fiction in the UK and Peter James is one of its foremost proponents: frequently inhabiting the best-seller lists, selling 5 million copies of his novels in the UK alone and 13 million copies worldwide. His novella The Perfect Murder is the first of his works to be adapted for the stage by writer Shaun McKenna. The storyline remains largely the same as its source material but resets it to the beginning of detective Roy Grace’s career rather than as the established Detective Superintendent we meet in the popular series of novels.
Victor Smiley (Les Dennis) and his wife Joan (Claire Goose) have been married for twenty years, but their marriage has reached crisis point: Victor dreams of a new life and has decided there is only one way to get Joan out of his life forever but Victor is about to get a nasty surprise as Joan has her own plans, plans that are just as dark as his. Throw into this mix a psychic sex worker Kamila (Simona Armstrong), handsome jack of all trades and laid back ‘Mockney’ Don (Gray O’Brien), alibi’s as holy as Swiss cheese and crime novelist Peter James’ well-loved detective Roy Grace (Steven Miller) investigating his very first homicide case and what you’ve got is a recipe for an entertaining thriller.
Whilst the novels are somber in tone this stage translation plays the majority of the action for laughs. Awash with contemporary references from 50 Shades of Grey to Breaking Bad, Brookside, BBC’s Sherlock and some asides referencing Les Dennis and Gray O’Brien’s stints in Coronation Street the production aims for a contemporary relevance and resonance. That said there are genuine frights and clever plot twists throughout and a few blood-curdling screams from both the stage and audience and whilst this comedy thriller is an entertaining evening’s diversion it would have benefitted from reining in the comic tone and playing up the more malevolent aspects of both the characters and the action to heighten the tension.
The cast are universally effective in their roles, the only gripe being the slight whiff of panto about Les Dennis’ characterization of Victor, playing down the delivery would have had an altogether more sinister effect.
Both the evocative original soundtrack courtesy of up and coming young composer Laura Tisdall and the multi-level set by Michael Holt are deserving of praise and are particularly effective in setting the atmosphere and helping to drive the storyline.
This is an evening of thrilling escapist fun which will certainly ring true with many of the long-marrieds in the audience and the frightening message from the story of this all too ordinary couple and their highly familiar domestic life is how many of us are capable of committing murder? Well, given the right circumstances, all of us.