One of the less appealing gigs for critics was watching creaky touring versions of Agatha Christie novels, so thank god best-selling crime author Peter James spotted a gap in the middle market for stage versions of his work.
Wish You Were Dead features his most famous creation, the deep-thinking Brighton detective Roy Grace, and many of the audience will have been attracted by the popular ITV series. This play is based on a quick read novel as Grace takes a much-needed break in France with his pathologist wife Cleo and baby son Noah.
Along with their American nanny Kaitlynn they tip up at a run-down French chateau to be met by a surly maid and there’s a missing copper. As is tradition in crime capers nothing is as it seems, so can the wily Grace talk his way out of some serious bother?
The other positive of these shows is the producers actually bother to cast performers who can still act. George Rashford was a stalwart on Casualty playing troubled doctor Ethan Hardy, and he brings all that experience slightly underplaying the less than flamboyant Superintendent Grace. Katie McGylnn was a star on the Weatherfield cobbles and is believable as Grace’s tough wife.
The experienced Rebecca McKinnis resists the temptation to go all ‘Allo ‘Allo as Madame L’Eveque who is not what she seems, and Gemma Stroyan’s American accent as the couple’s nanny never wavers, which is something you can’t always say on this stage.
Another Casualty alumni Clive Mantle has huge fun as a wonderfully over the top Brighton villain keen to settle a score with Grace, and despite the tension he cannily wins plenty of laughs along the way.
Shaun Harrison’s adaptation of the source material keeps the action rattling along, although the first half could have been cut down a bit, and Michael Holt’s set allows plenty of movement around this big stage.
Wish You Were Dead might not be high art, but is an entertaining night out played with conviction by a talented group of actors who managed to banish any memories of dear old Agatha.
Wish You Were Dead is at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 6th May. To book 0113 2430808 or www.leedsheritagetheatres.com
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 3rd May 2023
North West End UK Rating: ★★★