The Perfect Murder – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Writer: Peter James, adapted byShaun McKenna

Director: Ian Talbot

Reviewer: Nicole Evans

Only starting life in paper form a mere six years ago, The Perfect Murder has already had huge success, both as a high flyer in the literary charts and as a play adaptation currently embarking on its second UK tour. Keeping the appeal of a repeat, but still somewhat unknown to many, production can be a thankless task, so the genius of the decision to cast one of soap’s best-loved and well-renowned couples in the lead roles is evident from the near sell-out audience in attendance at The Belgrade Theatre tonight.

Everybody has it in them to commit a murder; tools in our very own sheds, poisons in our cleaning cupboards, our bare hands. However not everybody has it in them to plan a murder to such an extent they have covered their tracks and won’t be caught, or won’t cave in to the guilt of what they’ve done, – if you can do that, you’ve just committed The Perfect Murder. This is exactly what long-suffering Victor Smiley plans to do to his wife, Joan. With well-laid plans to bump her off, cash in the insurance policy and run off into the wind with a hooker… it should be seamless, apart from the fact that Joan is also feeling the pain and is busy plotting The Perfect Murder of her own. As the plot twists and turns and the pair skirt around each other, their respective plans overlapping dramatically, humour ensues and the reality of the feats they are trying to achieve sets in. What could possibly go wrong?

A clever, unchanging set helps to paint the picture. The main bulk of the stage istaken up with the Smileys’ living room and kitchen, complete with homely, loving photos and quaint décor. Sitting above the living room are two bedrooms, one is the Smileys’ (although we only ever see it occupied when she is in the sack with her toyboy), and the other, Kamila’s room at the brother where she works. Lighting provides the location shift, with everything other than the scene in question being plunged into darkness.

Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace together on stage is an eagerly anticipated coupling. Having played such prominent roles in Eastenders for so long, will they be able to separate Kat and Alfie from Victor and Joan? The answer,simply, is yes. Wallace is by far the winner for best transformation, with none of the west-end ‘charm’ we are used to seeing coming through, and manages to perfect the persona of the ‘loving-the-good-life’, slightly upmarket, kept wife. Richie is very, well, Richie, and seems a little stiff at times (pardon the pun) but the pair mostly bounce off each other and, despite a slow and laboured start with some of the banter, raise an appropriate amount of laughs in the right places. Simona Armstrong is a convincing Croatian sex worker and flirts between seductive charm and vulnerability well, however, her scenes with cop Roy Grace are let down by Benjamin Wilkin to whom we just never warm as a character. Wilkin’s line delivery is cringe-worthy at times and his character is somewhat unconvincing and a little dull.

On the whole, this is a pleasing evening out, although it doesn’t quite live up to the hype, undoubtedly drawing crowds with the cast more than the brilliance. It provides laughs, slapstick, scares and a plot twist you may not see coming. You’ll leave having enjoyed yourself, but thinking it could have been better. Get a two-for-one ticket and you won’t be disappointed.

Runs until 2 April 2016 and on tour | Image: Honeybunn Photography

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