The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 25th April 2022
First Atlantis, then Dallas, and now Birmingham! Patrick “Bobby Ewing” Duffy stars in this (to me) obscure comedy-thriller from 1965, which has been dug up by Bill Kenwright Productions. Duffy plays Daniel Corban, a honeymooner whose wife has been missing for three days from the remote chalet they have borrowed from Daniel’s boss. The local police are on the case but then a woman turns up. Is she really the missing Mrs or, as Daniel insists, is she an imposter out to get him and, consequently, his life insurance?
On the surface, it’s standard genre fare, but its elevated by a dry and witty script by Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert. With more twists and turns than a corkscrew, the plot keeps you guessing in this hugely enjoyable, somewhat cosy murder-mystery.
Duffy is in fine form as the neurotic Corban, tightly wound and sarcastic, and of course, it’s a treat to see him live, for reals, and not just in Pam Ewing’s dream. No shower scene tonight, alas, but Duffy has a laidback confidence, which makes Corban’s increasingly desperate state all the more of a contrast.
As the is-she-or-isn’t-she wife Elizabeth, the alluring Linda Purl is great fun, and she is aided and abetted by Ben Nealon’s not-to-be-trusted clergyman. Gray O’Brien is excellent as the wise-cracking, jaded police inspector, and there is strong character support from the wonderfully named Hugh Futcher as Sidney from the sandwich shop. Paul Lavers makes his mark as Corban’s brash boss, with Chloe Zeitounian makes a fleeting impression in her brief appearance as the bit-on-the-side, ‘Mrs Parker’.
The mystery is intriguing enough to keep us hooked, while the rich vein of humour keeps us amused as the story unfolds and surprises. Bob Tomson’s direction paces the action well to create such an entertaining evening, we’re willing to overlook the occasional stretches of credibility. A well-made production, nicely played by all concerned. (There was an issue of patchy microphone coverage at the performance I saw. I prescribe a thorough soundcheck before the curtain goes up again.)
All in all, it’s good fun. Catch it while you can.
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 26th January 2015
Shaun McKenna’s adaptation of the Peter James novel keeps the twisty-turny plot to the fore, which is as it should be in a story of this type. It’s not so much a whodunit, a puzzle for the audience, as a theme park ride of shocks and spills. It is the plot, not the characters, that keeps us hooked in to the drama. This is fun for us but presents the actors with a particular challenge.
At times, the characters are merely mouthpieces, spouting ‘facts’ which may or may not be relevant to the subsequent action. They are ciphers rather than rounded characterisations – this is in service of the plot, which may require them to become someone other than we first encounter a little later on. And so we get some clunky attempts at dialogue – the ‘banter’(even between the police characters) does not ring true – and consequently, the acting can seem at times stilted and unconvincing.
Jamie Lomas is victim-in-chief Michael, looking forward to his stag night. There is some excruciating mateyness with his best man and partner in crime. A prank goes awry and Michael finds himself buried alive in a coffin. Yet it is within these confines that Lomas is set free. Using mainly his voice to express his mounting distress, he gives the performance of the night.
Rik Makarem is best mate Mark, and does a good job of squirming under pressure. Tina Hobley is strikingly beautiful as bride-to-be Ashley; there are surprises in store from both of them. Uncle Brad (Michael McKell) has a Canadian accent that is ropier than a piece of string – But I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, given the way the plot goes…
Josh Brown’s simple-minded Davey adopts a TV-style accent which he punctuates with Northern English – another strong depiction of distress – yet he also provides most of the comic touches, through characterisation rather than ham-fisted dialogue.
Sarah Baxendale is underused as the psychic friend to the star detective Roy Grace – here portrayed with calm assertiveness by Gray O’Brien. Marc Small enlivens every scene he’s in as Detective Sergeant Branson.
The split-level set by Michael Taylor works well to establish a range of locations, enabling the action to keep flowing, but I don’t think the car that wheels on and off is at all necessary, when so much of the scenery is suggested through lighting and sound. Also, a team of stage hands shifting scenery on half the stage during the penultimate scene is distracting, to put it mildly.
Director Ian Talbot builds suspense and surprise so that we care what happens next, even if we don’t give a toss about any of the characters involved.
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 10th November, 2014
All the love has gone from the marriage of Victor and Joan Smiley. She is having an affair with a bit of rough and he is a regular client to a Polish prostitute who happens to be psychic (she can see you coming). Victor is plotting to murder his wife and run off with Kamila, who in the mean time is using her psychometric abilities to help the police find murder victims. Add in a likeable but inexperienced young detective inspector and the stage is set for a lively evening of laughter, thrills and suspense.
Shaun McKenna’s adaptation of Peter James’s novel is very funny – the bickering between the central couple is acerbic and sometimes cruel – and it’s played to the hilt by Robert Daws and Dawn Steele, who both drip with bitter sarcasm. Gray O’Brien is energetic as Joan’s bit of stuff, while Simona Armstrong’s Kamila pulls off some potentially awkward scenes of psychic flashes. Thomas Howes teases out the tension as D.C. Grace. It’s not so much a whodunit but a will-they-get-away-with-it, and there are shocks and twists along the way.
Michael Holt’s split level set gives us four rooms all at once so the action can keep flowing without any pesky scene changes, (keeping a chest freezer centre stage…) Mark Howett’s lighting and Martin Hodgson’s sound enhance the suspense and bring a touch of the supernatural to the proceedings. Director Ian Talbot places emphasis on the fun – we enjoy the performers even if we find the characters deplorable.
With its many references to popular crime fiction, the play is a refreshing change from the country house, drawing room, murder mysteries that usually do the rounds. Not only is there a discussion of which Sherlock Holmes has the best bum, there is a knowingness that informs the plot: the characters have all ‘seen it on the telly’ and so has the audience, but The Perfect Murder is fresh and engaging. You are guaranteed a good night out with this entertaining black comedy chiller.