The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
Is there such a thing as the perfect murder?
Victor Smiley (Robert Daws – The Royal, Outside Edge) certainly thinks so and we join him as he is announcing his desire to kill wife Joan (Monarch of the Glen and Wild at Heart’s Dawn Steele), just moments after the curtain raises.
He’s been carefully researching his nefarious plans, obsessively watching detective shows on TV, and he’s now ready to do the deed, cash in the life insurance policy and start a new life with prostitute Kamila (Simona Armstrong), whom he visited for the past few months.
The show is adapted from a novella by Peter James and a little date manipulation allows him to visit the hero of his popular Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series as a rookie crimesolver of minimal experience.
There are plenty of plot twists and turns as the warring couple bicker their way through the first act, and the petty little annoyances of 20 years of married life are entertainingly portrayed, down to their differing preferences of Sherlock Holmes actors (his is Basil Rathbone, hers is Benedict Cumberbatch – mainly due to his bottom).
The two-storey set makes good use of the vertical stage space, switching between the interior of the Smileys’ home and Kamila’s place of work, with characters moving impressively swiftly between them.
The performances are all clear, confident and workmanlike and no one really stands out – the mark of an efficient ensemble cast – although former Coronation Street and Peak Practice star Gray O’Brien raises most laughs with his mangled attempts at Cockney rhyming slang in a rather wonky Estuary accent.
Peter James was at the Marlowe for the performance, meeting fans and signing copies of his books during the interval.
It’s unlikely that he gave away what might happen in the second act, even though people must have asked, because at the end of the first half it’s impossible not to wonder where the story can go.
But it turns out there are plenty more surprises and although any attempts to make the audience jump are gentle rather than heart-stopping and the conclusion is a rather rushed exposition speech it’s an ultimately satisfying end to proceedings.
Some might even say it was perfect.