Friday, September 22

Wish You Were Dead – The Alexandra, Birmingham

I’ve never heard of Peter James, but to be fair he’s probably never heard of me. So, when his voice echoed around the auditorium of the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham last night we all felt we’d been given special treatment. Though rumour has it Dolly Parton used to do it on “9 to 5”. It added an element of personal involvement and validation as James wouldn’t personally be joining us that night.

Now there were those in the audience last night who may have regarded what followed as preposterous hokum, cut and pasted from the Crime Writer’s Handbook riddled with a litany of hackneyed cliches smothered with lashings of clunky exposition. But no, I disagree. At first we’re confronted by a selection of our favourite mystery tropes – a crashing storm, no wi-fi, electricity gone out and the car has a broken down. So far – ho hum. All of which facts are ladled in slow measured set-ups throughout the first act. The plot twists, stutters, twists again and finally reaches its inevitable conclusion with the baddie getting their just desserts (You didn’t see that coming?)

But what superficially is a thriller of the old school is deftly played by a talented group of actors who know we know it’s a thriller of the old school and embrace that in their fun, frothy performances earning laughs all over with the sheer joy of the event. George Rainsford and Katie McGlynn are a very plausible couple bringing their baby son on a break in France. Both play very straight parts allowing for the endearing eccentric performances to resonate around them. Most eccentric of all is Clive Mantle who imbues what could have been a trite stereotype Brighton gangster with a series of engaging quirks and physical manners and some great shoulder work to give us a very memorable villain. Rebecca McKinnis deploys two convincing and contrasting performances as Madame L’Eveque and a criminal side-kick both beautifully drawn. Gemma Stroyan, as their nanny with a staggering capacity for escaping locked-rooms, Leon Stewart and Callum Sheridan-Lee. who both turn up very late in the day and add some much needed surprise and intrigue and Alex Stedman, as a kidnap victim complete the cast.

Whether Peter James and his adaptor Shaun McKenna intended for it to be quite so comic is a moot point, but clearly the actors and, perhaps director Jonathan O’Boyle, decided it was probably the best option and they were right. What we’re left with is a jolly, buoyant, familiar romp with plot holes you could drive a Paul Mathews truck through played with glee and delight and a vibrant sense of theatre.

And Michael Holt’s set is a perfect encapsulation of every manor house thriller you could imagine.

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 21st June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.