Latest Review – The Perfect Murder (Opera House, Manchester) (UK Tour)

“Victor Smiley and his wife Joan have been married for a long time. But their marriage has reached crisis point and Victor has decided there is only one way to get Joan out of his life forever….but he’s about to get a nasty surprise……….. As a young Detective Roy Grace starts to investigate his very first homicide case, dark forces intervene and Grace begins to fear that nothing is quite as it seems.”

Adapted by Shaun McKenna from the original 2010 novella of the same name by the international, best-selling crime-thriller novelist Peter James, The Perfect Murder re-visits the very first homicide case of the young Detective Roy Grace (the best-known creation and central protagonist of the majority of the author’s work) for what proves a perfect evening’s entertainment, delivering a compelling production of surprisingly different tone from what was perhaps expected, with its fine blend of humour, twists and intrigue, not to mention a good number of modern cultural references thrown in for good measure; a rather clever device for engaging a response from the audience.

I have not yet read the original source novella, however if this stage adaptation is anything to go by, it is no wonder that The Perfect Murder spent an incredible 15 weeks at the Number One spot!

As a word of warning though, if you are going into The Perfect Murder expecting to see something along the lines of a traditional murder mystery, then you are likely to be slightly disappointed. In its overall setup and execution it has considerably more in common with a traditional farce – most notably the works of Ray Cooney – than it does a traditional thriller play. There are of course some very effective moments of tension and suspense weaved throughout, however the large majority of the production is underlined with a strong comic flair and most definitely falls into the black-comedy genre than the thriller bracket I believe most people were expecting.

Performances are generally excellent, most notably from Claire Goose as Joan and a near-unrecognisable Gray O’Brien as cockney taxi-driver, Don Kirk, with impressive support from Simona Armstrong as Croatian prostitute Kamila, and Steven Miller as Detective Grace. Les Dennis is still very good in the role of Victor, however alongside the aforementioned cast members, all of whom are particularly strong, he does appear slightly clumsy physically, notably stumbling and flubbing a few lines of dialogue.

The split-level set from designer Michael Holt again draws parallels with a typical Cooney or Ayckbourn farce, however, comprising the central location of the Smiley’s living room and kitchen on the ground level, and both their bedroom and Kamila’s brothel room on the upper level, the set is very well constructed and effectively utilised throughout. Lighting design courtesy of Mark Howett is excellent and incredibly atmospheric, and the sound design and effects from Martin Hodgson are superb, delivering a few notable shocks along the way.

Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes, including one 20-minute interval.

The Perfect Murder’ runs at the Opera House, Manchester until Saturday 19 April, 2014, before continuing on its nationwide tour.

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