Thursday, May 30

Wish You Were Dead – The Lowry

The line between amateur and professional theatre is a lot finer than many people realise. Sometimes it is the best am dram performances that remind one of this fact. Other times it is pro productions that feel second best. Wish You Were Dead is, sadly, an example of the latter.

This isn’t the first of Peter James’ bestselling Roy Grace stories to be adapted for the stage but, if the formula has worked well previously, it doesn’t quite deliver here.

The show is very heavy on exposition, very light on character development. There are a fair few plot points and devices which would have probably been given ample time to develop in a novel but which feel thrown away, redundant or downright confusing in a two hour stage production.

These problems are then compounded by some lower grade performances which are not particularly believable (albeit purposefully on at least one occasion) and which verge more on panto than thriller in style.

The plot is simple enough. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (George Rainsford) arrives at a French chateau for a well-earned holiday with wife Cleo (Katie McGlynn) and their new born son Noah. American nanny Kaitlynn is also in tow but her partner – police officer Jack Alexander – has strangely failed to arrive. And that isn’t the only problem.

There is no Wi-Fi, no mobile phone signal and next to no hospitality from the quirky-come-creepy housekeeper and the mysterious vicomte whose chateau they are staying in. In fact, much of the first half consists of lots of whining about the middle-class problems of arriving at an ageing continental property with a dodgy fuse box and next to no vegetarian dining options.

As the creepiness ramps up, things become a bit more interesting. This is thanks in no small part to some inventive set design features and special effects.

However, the big reveal before the interval doesn’t surprise and the rest of the show is pretty much paint by numbers. The second half relies a lot on characters explaining their backstory and actions. There is very little real threat despite a couple of fun jump scares.

On the plus side, Michael Holt’s clever, split-level set is impressive. Oak panels, wild boar heads mounted on the wall, dusty leather and soft furnishings. It is clear where we are from the first moment. You can almost smell the damp.

This sense of place is aided by a pre-show soundtrack of Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker. The stormy sound and light designs, from Max Pappenheim and Jason Taylor respectively, are just as evocative.

Rainsford is perfectly likeable as the popular detective and Clive Mantle is having a lot of fun as Curtis. As enjoyable as Mantle’s performance is however, it is one of a few that makes one question if this is supposed to be a comedy or drama. It isn’t clear if director Jonathan O’Boyle has decided.

Kudos to understudy Jayda Kariuki for stepping in as the frightened nanny.

Overall, however, the performances leave a lot to be desired. The cast are certainly not helped with a weak plot and script.

Given the relatively short running time there are worse ways to spend an evening, but there are many better examples out there of productions of this style. Including in the amateur world. Otherwise, perhaps the book is better.

Wish You Were Dead plays at the Lowry until 27th May. For more information and to book tickets visit: https://thelowry.com/whats-on/peter-james-wish-you-were-dead/.

Reviewer: Peter Ruddick

Reviewed: 23rd May 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.
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