The Perfect Murder (King’s Theatre: 1 – 5 March ’16)

Jessie Wallace and Shane Ritchie. Image credit: Honeybunn photography

Jessie Wallace and Shane Ritchie.
Image credit: Honeybunn photography

“Dark humour and plenty of jumpy moments ensure sheer entertainment”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

An (almost) Perfect Murder is taking place at the King’s this week, which, on the whole, I think is worth witnessing. Despite the slightly shaky plot and occasional drop in pace and energy, this stage adaptation of Peter James’ original novella is filled with enough dark humour and jumpy moments throughout to ensure a thoroughly entertaining production.

The plot centres around the rocky married life of Joan and Victor Smiley, played by Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie of Eastenders fame, as they each plot to kill the other in order to run away with their respective new lovers and start a new life on a beach in Spain drinking mojitos all day. Idyllic? These characters seem to think so, and what ensues is a darkly funny and occasionally completely ridiculous two hours, as they attempt to carry out their cunning plan.

The majority of the audience are clearly there to see ‘Kat and Alfie’ in action, yet as the play progresses and we witness the duo in their first scene alone on stage together, the shadow of the soap opera couple diminishes and Wallace and Richie prove they are not one trick ponies, with convincing performances of new characters. The chemistry that works so well between the two on screen is immediately evident on stage, and despite the potentially dull moments of petty marital bickering throughout the first act, the two carry this off with such exuberance and fine-tuned comic timing that it is more than bearable to watch. Wallace in particular, through her portrayal of Joan, is successful in being totally neurotic and batty, yet kooky and loveable at the same time, and for me her solo moments on stage were one of the play’s highlights.

While not quite matching up to the prowess of Wallace and Richie, the rest of the cast are largely commendable in their efforts to bring heart to moments in the plot that don’t quite work. Stephen Fletcher as Joan’s ‘new man’ and subsequent partner in crime, Don, was delightful in a simple, buffoonish performance that worked well alongside Wallace’s Joan. Equally, Simone Armstrong as the psychic Croat prostitute provides necessary comedy and warmth. Benjamin Wilkin’s DC Grace falls slightly off the mark, and there is an immediate drop in the pace of the action in his scenes with Armstrong. While Grace doesn’t seem to do any policing and comes across as quite an unnecessary character altogether, there is definitely potential for a deeper exploration of character to create more interest that Wilkin does not fully exploit.

Michael Holt’s set works well alongside the action, using large homey rooms built on top of one another in a house-like structure to provide the different locations in the plot. High-pitched screams and ghostly flashing lights, reminiscent of an old-school horror movie, do add a certain haunted air that ensures many a jolt of shock among the audience. Director Ian Talbot has led this cast to create an audience-pleasing production whose strong performances allow us to forget about the nitty gritty details of the slightly silly plot and instead enjoy an evening of dark comedy and ultimately, sheer entertainment.

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Reviewer: Rachel Cram (Seen 2nd March)

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