‘Til death us do part . . .

cast of Th Perfect Murder

Lover boy Don Kirk, left, (Gray O’Brian) with warring husband and wife Joan and Victor Smiley (Dawn Steele and Robert Daws)

The Perfect Murder

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

****

FAMED crime writer Peter James seems to have created a new theatrical genre with The Perfect Murder, the comedy-horror-murder mystery–psychological-thriller with sex thrown in for good measure.

And the something for everybody formulae works with plenty of laughs, a few jump out of your skin moments, twists a plenty and a clever ending that is disguised until the final curtain is in sight.

Victor Smiley, played by TV regular Robert Daws, perhaps best known as Roger in the wonderful Outside Edge, has a marriage which exists in name only.

His wife Joan, played by Dawn Steele, who was Lexie in Monarch of the Glen, is still an attractive woman, but over 20 years the romance in her life has been replaced by constant rows and bickering and although there is a hint that an inability to have children might have played its part in the breakdown, by now it is just another stick to beat each other with.

We first come across Victor in the The Kitten Parlour brothel, an establishment which seems to have been missed off the things to see and do in Brighton listings. Victor, the IT manager of the ninth largest egg box manufacturer in England, is on one of his three times a week visits to Croatian prostitute Kamila Walcak, played by Romanian actress Simona Armstrong. She is his emotional, and sexual, escape from a marriage he is determined to end - and with his obsession with murder, and hero-worship of Sherlock Holmes, he has evolved the perfect plan, one which will not involve troubling the divorce courts.

All would be well except Joan has discovered her own bit on the side in the rather more muscular shape of Don Kirk, played by Gray O’Brian, another TV regular, cast of The Perfect Murderbest known as Tony Gordon in Coronation Street.

While Victor annoyed Joan with his constant humming, Don starts to irritate with his own sort of pigeon Cockney; everything he says he turns into rhyming Vera Wang . . . you get the idea. It takes a while but Joan eventually finds that her Mr Wonderful is starting to look like a lot like a younger, hunkier version Victor, a Victor with a sex drive, or at least a sex drive pointed in her direction

Croatian prostitute Kamila Walcak and DC Grace (Simona Armstrong and Thomas Howes)

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Into the plot stumbles DC Roy Grace, who was to become Det Supt Grace in his own series of James’s novels. The young DC, played by Thomas Howes, second footman William in Downton Abbey, first contacts Kamila for assistance in a missing person inquiry and is then contacted by her when another person vanishes. And his youthful doggedness eventually reveals the truth, or at least one version of the truth

We won’t give the plot away save to say we have lots of laughs, a bit of violence and gore, two deaths, one and a half murders, things that go bump in the night and a few twists and turns along the way.

A fine cast are always believable led by Daws as Victor who seems to be going through not a long running, btter, mid life crisis that has been building for years.

His sniping and cutting remarks and petty rows had a ring of truth for many a couple in the audience, while Steele’s Joan was a woman who was not yet ready to embrace middle age, let along old age, but who had become an outsider married to a stranger. The only part of the marriage vows that seemed to still apply were 'til death us do part.

You feel for Kamila as her dreams of escape from her life as a sex worker are supposedly shattered, dislike O’Brien’s Don as a bit of a flash wide boy, and have confidence in the quiet DC Grace to get to the bottom of things, or near enough to close the file-and remember the hallmatk of a perfect murder is that it is never detected.

Shaun McKenna’s stage adaptation is both funny, at times hilariously so, with a few topical references thrown in, and is clever enough to string you along well into the second act before the final twist is revealed, while Michael Holt’s three level set design is masterful, providing Kamila’s room in the brothel, Victor and Joan’s living room, as well as their kitchen and upstairs bedroom, all without a scene change and pause.

Mark Howett;s lighting had some nice touches as well, such as the flickering light on the lounge walls from the huge TV Victor had bought, which was supposedly suspended on the fourth wall above the audience.

Martin Hodgson’s sound was well executed as well with neat little touches such as a phone ringing in a drawer and instantly becoming louder as the drawer opens, which, along with the lighting, is a credit to the usually unsung technical crew.

Ian Talbot’s direction keeps up a cracking pace and for two and a half hours the audience were gripped by a clever plot, the theatrical equivalent of a book you cannot put down. To 15-11-14

Roger Clarke

10-11-14

Dying for laughs

****

IT’S a rare experience to be able to describe a murder play as a bundle of laughs, but there are moments verging on slapstick in this clever story by best selling author Peter James.

There were even giggles from the first night audience as one victim was despatched, with the action veering from violence to comedy, and even a helping of sex under a duvet, plus visits to a brothel.

After 20 years of marriage, Victor and Joan Smiley spend much of the time in each other’s company moaning or nagging each other, she irritated by his constant humming, he dissatisfied with her appearance, though actress Dawn Steele (Wild at Heart and Monarch of the Glen) looked pretty good from where I was sitting.

Robert Daws (The Royal, and Outside Edge) is excellent as cheating Victor who decides the only way to solve the problem is to plan the perfect murder, but inevitably things go wrong in a most unexpected way.

Some of the twists and turns are difficult to swallow but the dark humour involved is entertaining and Dawn Steele gives a delightful performance as Joan, who, it transpires, has a her own perfect plan to silence her dodgy husband.

Muscular Gray O’Brien is suitably convincing as Joan’s secret friend Don Kirk, Thomas Howes (Downton Abbey) impresses as the young Detective Constable Roy Grace, and Simona Armstrong adds glamour to the role of Eastern European prostitute Kamila Walcak.

A splendid set manages to squeeze the Smileys’ living room, kitchen, bedroom and part of the Kitten Parlour brothel onto the stage at the same time in what could be described as the imperfect murder. But hugely enjoyable.. To 15.11.14

Paul Marston 

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