New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 7th November, 2017
Ira Levin’s classic thriller is doing the rounds in this effective new production, featuring two escapees from Albert Square, namely Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace as husband and wife. He is a playwright who hasn’t had a hit for a few years; she is the supportive wife with a weak constitution, who has been funding their life together in their smart little barn conversion in the woods… Along comes bright young thing Sam Phillips with an idea for a new play, and the scene is set for double-crosses, shocks and surprises.
Levin’s script is clever, laced with sarcastic wit and tell-tale details – if you know what to look for. I’ve seen the play before so I knew all its secrets going in but director Adam Penford manages the twists and turns, changes of pace, the violence and the laughs with skill, providing a few jump scares along the way.
Paul Bradley dominates as the desperate and overbearing Sidney, while Jessie Wallace, unusually dowdy in her frumpy beige cardigan and not a hint of leopard print for miles, gives a restrained performance as Myra with the dodgy ticker. Sam Phillips’s Clifford brings energy and good looks, and there is a wild comic cameo from Beverley Klein as visiting Swedish psychic, Helga ten Dorp. Julien Ball completes the quintet as Sidney’s smooth attorney, Porter Milgrim.
Morgan Large’s attractive, rustic set bedecked with a range of vicious weapons gives the action its arena but at times Ben and Max Ringham’s music is a little heavy-handed. Moments of violence are underscored for added atmosphere, heightening the emotion but lessening its realism.
It’s a play that deconstructs itself as it plays out. The characters discuss the elements of a stage thriller before and after we see them enacted within the plot, and it is this knowingness that makes Levin’s piece a classic of the genre. A similar approach was adopted much later by horror film Scream. But like all thrillers, it’s about not-particularly-nice people doing despicable things for (usually) financial gain. Unusually, there is no detective to wheedle out the truth – a different comeuppance awaits these plotters…
This is a solid production, well played and engaging. A darkly delicious way to spend an evening.
Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace host a cardigan festival
Leave a comment | tags: Adam Penford, Ben and Max Ringham, Beverley Klein, Deathtrap, Ira Levine, Jessie Wallace, Julien Ball, Morgan Large, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Paul Bradley, review, Sam Phillips, thriller | posted in Theatre Review
THE PERFECT MURDER
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 30th March, 2016
This production gets a new lease of life in a new tour starring EastEnders double act, Kat and Alfie Moon – Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie. They certainly bring in the crowds.
Adapted by Shaun McKenna from the Peter James novel, this is a comedy thriller about sarcastic sod Victor Smiley (even his name is sarcastic) plotting to get rid of his Mrs and run off with his prostitute girlfriend and a hefty haul of insurance money. Victor is an aficionado of televised murder mysteries and thinks he’s got it taped. What he doesn’t know is that his trouble and strife has plots of her own, teaming up with her bit on the side, Don… Meanwhile, fresh out of the box Detective Constable Roy Grace smells a rat…
Richie and Wallace undoubtedly have chemistry. Away from Walford, to somewhere more middle class near Brighton, the accents have softened but their embittered, barbed dialogue sparks between them – they clearly enjoy working with each other. At first, we feel sympathy for poor neglected Joan (Wallace, bringing brittle feistiness and steely vulnerability to the role) until we learn what she’s up to too. Richie’s characterisation gives us a detestable man – one we enjoy disliking. The pair play their scenes together like virtuoso duets. Wallace’s hysteria is especially hilarious while Richie’s ruthlessness becomes rather repellent.
Simona Armstrong is also great fun as Kamila, the prostitute with psychic flashes, while Benjamin Wilkin’s detective is the innocent of the bunch, the straight man amid these heightened characters. Stephen Fletcher is an energetic Don, although his dialogue – all mockney rhyming slang and out-of-date references – is rather odd.
The plot works through its machinations, giving us moments of tension and dramatic irony along with moments of shock and even spookiness. Throughout runs a rich vein of rather dark humour – Director Ian Talbot brings the humour to the fore and there are some hilarious moments of physical comedy. Michael Holt’s split set works well to keep the action flowing, cutting from one place to another without the delay of transitions, so that the pace and tension are maintained. Mark Howett’s lighting design helps to crank up that tension.
It’s a rather straightforward, theatrically conventional piece but it works extremely well to provide an evening of cracking, satisfying entertainment. A definite crowd-pleaser.
Bickering and banter: Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie as the Smileys. (Photo: Honeybunn Photography)
Leave a comment | tags: Benjamin Wilkin, Ian Talbot, Jessie Wallace, Michael Holt, Peter James, Shane Richie, Shaun McKenna, Simona Armstrong, Stephen Fletcher, The Perfect Murder | posted in Theatre Review