The Perfect Murder
Grand Opera House, York, September 29
Having not read Peter James’ popular Roy Grace detective novels, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the stage adaptation of his story The Perfect Murder.
The play is based around a marriage that is clearly falling apart – and the first half is a mixture of bickering between Victor and Joan Smiley, and a tentative partnership between Detective Roy Grace and working girl Kamila Walcak.
By the second half, someone is dead, Grace is sniffing around the scene and there are some spooky goings on before the twist shows its face.
Shaun McKenna’s script is fast-paced and packed with dry humour, although some of the insults hurled by embittered husband Victor at wife Joan made me wince.
There are plenty of pop culture references including to two modern day Sherlocks, “Benedict Cucumberpatch” with his “nice bum” and Robert Downey Jr, the “on drugs” Holmes.
The story really comes into its own when the murder has been carried out. The audience laughed and gasped at the appropriate times and no doubt many married couples could relate to the Smileys’ irritations, from annoying humming, to snoring, to talking over your favourite TV programme.
Simona Armstrong (Kamila) is a welcome breath of fresh air as she helps Roy Grace to solve a murder. When he suggests she could get another job she replies that she doesn’t want to work at Poundland.
Robert Daws has the biggest stage presence with his middle of the road IT manager Victor. Gray O’Brien injects some genuine emotion into his role as Dawn’s lover Don.
Thomas Howes (of Downton Abbey fame) ironically has the least impact in the central role of Roy Grace (pictured). In this incarnation, Peter James’ detective was more a plot device than a rounded character.
The design is great – there are two bedrooms on top of the main set and even some clever use of the ‘outdoor’ area at the back. Hats off to designer Michael Holt and lighting designer Mark Howett for creating a relatable, yet simple combination of elements that work seamlessly for the telling of the story.
All in all the play has a few scares, multiple laughs but disappointingly little suspense. The ‘twist’ didn’t affect me because quite honestly I wasn’t rooting for anyone to survive (apart from poor Don).
The story may have held together better in its original book form than it did as a play. But the acting was superb and the script believable.
Just as the murderer sought perfection and fell short, so, ultimately, did a talented and entertaining company.
The Perfect Murder is at the Grand Opera House until Saturday, October 4, nightly at 7.30pm with Wed & Sat matinees at 2.30pm