Fans of the crime writer Peter James and his detective Roy Grace will love this production. ‘The Perfect Murder’ is a dark comedy thriller that follows the troubled marriage of Victor Smiley (Robert Dawes) and his wife Joan (Dawn Steele). Victor is conducting a relationship with Kamila, a Croatian prostitute (Simona Armstrong), whilst his wife is also having an affair with Don (Gray O’Brien), the odd job man. Both Victor and Joan are planning the perfect murder – of one another of course! Enter the fifth member of the cast – the very young, fledgling detective, Roy Grace (Thomas Howes), investigating his first case. This production is full of twists and turns. There are some expected outcomes too – the use of the prominently positioned freezer being one! This is not a subtle murder mystery; this is a loud, outlandish dark comedy, with poor Roy Grace looking very uncomfortable as he relies on Kamila to help him, by means of her psychic powers!
The use of the split level stage ensured a smooth transition between the brothel in Brighton to the Smileys’ home at Saltdean. The use of lighting and sound, particularly in the television scenes, produced many gasps and sharp intakes of breath from the audience. Tense moments were marked by jangly music or strings being played, the volume gradually increasing, and dark silhouettes illuminated from behind or long shadows being thrown – I found these stereotypical moments of tension to be quite funny but many sitting around me were made nervous. Screams, reminiscent of ‘The Woman In Black’, made us all jump. This production was certainly not short of highly dramatic moments!
The actors played their parts well and entertained the audience, using all their energy and skill to maintain the tension in this fast-paced drama. This production has been touring for a year now and the writer, Peter James, clearly has a huge following, having sold over 15 million Roy Grace detective novels worldwide. James and the stage adaptor, Shaun McKenna, have worked closely together as McKenna has turned James’ novella into a stage production. The director, Ian Talbot, too has been with the production from the start and next year all three plan to bring one of James’ most popular books, ‘Dead Simple’ to the stage. I think there is much to learn from ‘The Perfect Murder’ that will help to make ‘Dead Simple’ more successful.
For what do you do when you dislike both central characters who are intent upon murdering each other? I would happily have aided and abetted either one and then killed the remaining wife/husband in order to clear such cold, cynical, unpleasant people from the stage. When you don’t care or like or sympathise with the two central characters, how can you develop any interest or concern for what happens to them? Neither Victor nor Joan shows any care, concern or love for their married partners and we have verbal duel, after duel, after duel, each trying to hurt the other more. In fact, let’s suspend all belief and disbelief, this play is not even trying to be realistic. I think it’s a comedy but as the laughs are all at the expense of hurting others, they often make you feel uncomfortable, not amused, with lines like Joan’s ‘I’m still attractive’ and his reply ‘to flies’. Joan and Victor deserve to die. So who do we care about? Not the Cockney slang addict, Don, who spends all his time explaining himself: ‘Hovis…brown bread…dead’; nor the prostitute who charges for her kisses. Roy Grace is the answer; we could love him, but his role is so small in this play that we barely get to know him. We need to see him detecting and not relying on a psychic prostitute to tell him what to do next.
‘The Perfect Murder’ is part thriller; part murder plot; part ghost story; part detective story; part comedy – and therein lies its problem. It is trying to be all things to all people and thus falls through the cracks for me, but it clearly has an audience for dedicated lovers of DI Roy James. My advice for next year’s ‘Dead Simple’? Bring the Detective to the front, make him the protagonist that we care for, and then we can enjoy watching the criminals being brought to justice. ‘The Perfect Murder’ is full of unexpected twists and the ending is certainly clever. I’m not even going to tell you who gets murdered…
Review by Valerie Cochrane
The Perfect Murder
Following his co-production of A Streetcar Named Desire at The Young Vic receiving rave reviews, producer Joshua Andrews sees his hit production of Peter James’s The Perfect Murder head to New Wimbledon Theatre for one week only from 27th October to Saturday 1st November 2014.
Having delighted and frightened audiences across the country from Bath to Glasgow with its darkly comic and thrilling storyline, Peter James’ best-selling novel, The Perfect Murder is set for an extended run starring Robert Daws and Dawn Steele. Following nation-wide critical and audience acclaim, the autumn run of The Perfect Murder also sees the return of Gray O’Brien.
This is the first ever stage production of the work of international best-selling crime thriller novelist Peter James – who has sold over 15 million books of his Roy Grace series and been published in 36 languages – The Perfect Murder, which spent 15 weeks at No.1 in the book charts, has been adapted by award winning writer Shaun McKenna.
Victor Smiley and his wife Joan have been married for a long time. But their marriage has reached crisis point and Victor has decided there is only one way to get Joan out of his life forever… but he’s about to get a nasty surprise… As a young Detective Roy Grace starts to investigate his very first homicide case, dark forces intervene and Grace begins to fear that nothing is quite as it seems in this entertaining dark comedy thriller.
The Perfect Murder is adapted by Shaun McKenna from the novel by Peter James, directed by Ian Talbot and produced by Peter James and Joshua Andrews, the latter of whom is also co-producing a new staging by Benedict Andrews of A Streetcar Named Desire with the Young Vic – the fastest selling show in the theatre’s history – which has opened to rave reviews and stars Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster and Vanessa Kirby. A Streetcar Named Desire has just announced an ‘NT Live’ broadcast in cinemas towards the end of its run in September.
The Perfect Murder is produced by Joshua Andrews and Peter James, in association with Paul Tyrer and Jamie Clark at the Booking Office. Their next production – Peter James’ best-selling novel Dead Simple tours the UK from January 2015.
Tuesday 28th October 2014