Writer: Peter James
Adaptor: Shaun McKenna
Director: Jonathan O’Boyle
The collaboration between novelist Peter James and playwright Shaun McKenna has proved to be hugely successful, with six productions coming in the space of just under a decade. It would appear that the pair have the Midas touch when it comes to crime theatre productions.
For their latest offering, the pair have yet again turned to James’ most famous creation, DCI Roy Grace, for Wish You Were Dead. Taken from a short story of the same name, the plot sees Grace (George Rainsford), his wife Cleo (Katie McGlynn) and their baby boy, Noah, take a holiday in France, along with their friend and the child’s nanny, Kaitlynn (Jayda Kariuki).
They arrive at the Château-sur-L’Eveque during a storm of biblical proportions, to find that the property is far from the five-star accommodation they imagined. The chateau is somewhat run-down, a decor of stuffed animals and suits of armour seemingly watching their every move. In addition, their host, Madame L’Eveque (Rebecca McKinnis) is far from hospitable – oozing contempt for the group. Finally, there are numerous communication issues: there is no wifi, and the mobile signal keeps dropping, which is making it impossible to contact Jack (Alex Steadman), Roy’s colleague and Kaitlynn’s significant other who should also be joining them.
As the evening progresses suspicions begin to creep in along with numerous clues that all is not what it seems with their host. This coupled with DCI Grace’s need to contact his partner, Glenn Branson (Leon Stewart) about the possible arrest of a major player in a Brighton-based organised crime syndicate sees tensions rise. Eventually, the planned cosy getaway turns into the holiday from hell, and a deadly hostage situation brought about by an old case from Grace’s past is very much tied to the DCI’s current one.
Wish You Were Dead is an entertaining but flawed night at the theatre. It’s this reviewer’s opinion that crime theatre is one of the most challenging genres to get right and this production doesn’t quite rise to the challenge. The opening act is a slow burner, where not a great deal happens, filled with exposition, it’s only with the arrival of the villain of the piece, Curtis (Clive Mantle) does the action step up a gear.
The plot itself is ludicrous and filled with contrivances, it’s at what point do you, as an audience member, decide to ‘just go along with it’ the sooner you get there the more that you’ll enjoy the experience.
The cast are fine, Mantle is a towering figure, coupled with charisma and a hefty dose of menace, which makes for an entertaining baddie. Rainsford, offers a measured, understated turn as was the savvy detective. Katie McGlynn is equally fine as the strong, feisty Cleo, you just wish she’d been given some better dialogue to work with.
Rebecca McKinnis puts in a scene-stealing turn as the harsh, disdainful, darkly comedic housekeeper, Madame L’Eveque. The cast do well with the material they have but at times some characters seem 2-dimensional and a bit flat, whilst some of the dialogue is a bit ripe like the fine cheese Madame L’Eveque serves up to the guests in the first act.
A major plus point of the production is the fabulous set design from Michael Holt, his creepy, tired-looking chateau is perfect, evoking that classic Cluedo, murder-mystery vibe. There is one particular trick the set design pulls that is as impressive as it is surprising.
Overall it’s an entertaining production with enough twists, turns and intrigue to hold your attention for a couple of hours, however, you can’t help but feel the writing team missed a trick with a genuine lack of menace and jeopardy.
Runs until 27 May 2023