This week saw Peter James’ The Perfect Murder arrive at Norwich Theatre Royal. The Perfect Murder is the first of James’ many crime novels to be adapted for the stage, it was done so with the help of Joshua Andrews.
Photo: Norwich Theatre Royal
The play itself tells the story of unhappily married couple Victor (Les Dennis) and Joan (Claire Goose) Smiley and their hapless plots to kill each other and run off with their respective lovers. In the case of Victor his ‘other woman’ is generically Eastern-European prostitute Kamila Walcak, played by Romanian born Simona Armstrong.
At this point in a review Venue would normally concern itself with the actor’s performances, but to do so here doesn’t seem quite fair. Actors only have a fighting chance if the script their using can stand up to scrutiny in its own right. The Perfect Murder’s script was fraught with obvious jokes and unnatural ex-positional dialogue leaving the whole performance as predictable as it was tenuous. The key to the play’s failings lies in its seeming inability to distinguish itself as either a farcical comedy or a dramatic thriller. There are elements of both throughout, yet neither has enough weight to carry the production, and as a result it is left somewhere in between. Reaching for laughs and tears simultaneously means that it missed both. In essence the play ran like an episode of Miranda, with murder thrown with a heavy hand.
Although it wasn’t enough to save the show completely, the saving grace of The Perfect Murder is undoubtedly Les Dennis. His likeable persona was easily transferred to his character Victor, and his natural comic timing helped to land many of the jokes the rest of the cast struggled with. That’s not to say that the audience couldn’t see the jokes coming a mile away, it’s just that they trusted Dennis to land them safely on stage.
Steven Miller took on the role of Detective Constable Roy Grace, Peter James’ reoccurring murder-solving good guy, with a performance that was difficult to judge. He seemed fairly stiff and uptight, whether this was due to poor acting or a poorer script is still unclear. The closest Grace came to revealing a personal side was in his telling of a childhood story, told to gain the trust of Walcak.
Oh, and did we forget to mention that Walcak was a psychic? A topic handled with all the originality of a recycling bin.