Arts, OldVenue

Review: ‘Dead Simple’ at Norwich Theatre Royal

Peter James’ chilling story of betrayal and murder has been successfully adapted by Shaun McKenna into a powerful dramatic production directed by the talented Ian Talbot. The action of the story begins with Michael Harrison (Jamie Lomas), a successful property developer who has it all; a beautiful fiancée – Ashley, rich lifestyle and good friends. However Michael, a fan of practical jokes, has the tables turned on him when a prank on his stag night goes horribly wrong, leaving him utterly alone and buried alive. Investigating his disappearance is Detective Roy Grace (Gray O’Brien) and his fellow cop (Marc Small) who add enjoyable moments of comic relief against the darker tone of the play.

The set design was truly impressive and was an important part in creating the dynamic dimensions of the play. Michael Taylor, the Set and Costume Designer, really maximised the use of the stage to its full potential with the stage divided at moments between the swish apartment of Michael and Ashley, to the dark woods of the burial. Taylor also cleverly used levels in the set design, with some events happening above other spaces. The audience were transported with great ease from one moment of the play to another through the effective set design combined with atmospheric lighting design by Mark Howett.

Another key feature which heightened the atmosphere of this production was the use of sound by Sound Designer Martin Hodgson. The audience were invited to join in key moments of the production through clever sound effects such as phone calls, Michael’s voice as he lies trapped in the coffin and car engines etc. which were projected clearly for the audience.

A strong character of the play was the alluring Ashley Harper who was performed by Tina Hobley with convincing character diversity. She interacted well with the other characters especially Michael Mckell who played her complicated Uncle Bradley. Rik Makarem was particularly strong as the best friend Mark Warren whose friendship was tested with edgy reactions and unsettling emotions. A character rather minor to the plot line but featured powerfully was Davey Wheeler by Josh Brown who engaged the audience with his troubled, innocent character which becomes caught in the web of the drama.

The production was subtle in its level of clues left for the audience to unravel the truth for themselves while the plot was deep enough to continually produce twists and turns before reaching the shocking ending. In some ways this production felt reminiscent of key crime thrillers such as Dial M for Murder with good old fashioned detective work at its heart but with further levels of intrigue and unsettling truths being offered.

Another interesting level of the production was the idea of the psychic detective. Detective Roy Grace who has featured in many of Peter James’ novels returns with his personal interest in the power of clairvoyance which creates an added level of suspense and chilling possibilities. The combination of modern day and traditional crime aspects created a powerful experience for the audience, strongly rooted by Peter James’ understanding for the human psyche.

For anyone who is a fan of drama whether it is of crime thrillers or not should view this production as it has all the key elements needed for a memorable evening at the Theatre.


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January 2021
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