“The Perfect Murder” by Peter James was originally written as a short novella for the Reading Agency as part of their “Quickreads” publication programme which invites authors to write works that encourage literacy in the UK.  The works are written in a style that that makes them accessible to readers at many reading level abilities.  This stage adaptation features Peter James’ highly popular Roy Grace creation (a Detective Constable rank in this story), and adaptation for stage is by Shaun McKenna who also adapted Peter James’ “Dead Simple” for stage.

“The Perfect Murder” idea arose from a conversation that highlighted that the only solved murders are those that are reported to the police.  This, coupled with the large percentage of missing persons that are never found in the UK, set Peter James thinking, and this story is the result.

Victor Smiley (Shane Richie) has been married to his wife Joan (Jessie Wallace) for twenty years and they are now just both so bored with one another.  Victor is the older one in this relationship and having a younger wife that still wants some attention (and is getting none from him) is not helping matters.  Neither is Victor’s never-ending snoring which forces Joan into the spare bedroom most nights.  Certainly not helping either is Victor forgetting their 20th wedding anniversary.

The main battleground for the two of them always seems to be Sunday morning, and from the moment we see Victor and Joan together, it is obvious from the never ending verbal “shots” that this is a pretty much dead marriage falling apart at an increasingly rapid rate.

Victor however has a hobby, and that is murder.  He endlessly watches on television all the murder stories he can and considers himself an expert on the subject. 

Victor however also has a little secret or two of his own, and we as an audience learn that secret right from the start.  Victor has been visiting on a very regular basis for some months now Kamila Walcak (Simona Armstrong), an Eastern European prostitute, and confides to her that he has come up with the perfect plan to commit “The Perfect Murder” and kill his wife.  He also plans to run away with Kamila to start a new life with her after the deed is done.

Kamila is not quite an ordinary person though, she is a psychic, and we quickly meet DC Roy Grace (Benjamin Wilkin) who is visiting her for insight over the disappearance of a young boy who has, as it turns out, been brutally murdered.

Joan Smiley also has a secret of her own.  Completely bored with her life with Victor she is having a very passionate affair with Don Kirk (Stephen Fletcher).  Don Kirk is a nice wordplay on Dunkirk the place, apt as Victor goes about the house often humming the theme from “The Dam Busters”.

All our characters are now in place and the scene is set for “The Perfect Murder”.

The first thing anyone going to this show will notice is that this is a fairly light-hearted script.  Not farcical, but certainly not the more dramatic script you might normally associate with a murder story.  There is a lot of humour in this dialogue, a mixture of outright humour and blacker humour, and much of it centres around the very bored domestic home life of Victor and Joan.  This is where Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace really stand out here...those sharp little domestic jibes at one another that most of us have probably been through at one time or another.  Are they attempting to recreate their famous “East Enders” roles here a bit?...definitely not, but all those years of working together has made them both so comfortable working together that you can start to believe they are together.  There is also that very good timing together that light comedy dialogue of this sort needs to work properly, and it is so easy to get that wrong.  They both of course get it just right.

Stephen Fletcher as Don gets some very good comedy lines here too and is very good with light comedy while at the same time not making his role laughable for the more dramatic scenes.

Simona Armstrong as Kamila is really limited in this story a bit as her character only meets Victor and DC Roy Grace, but her character is interesting and Simona makes the most of this part.  Being Romanian helps of course with the Eastern European accent.   Kamila is the odd character here though as there are so many questions about her that are not explored.  What events brought her here to work as a prostitute and how does being a psychic that only sees death affect her.  Kamila is a pretty dark character that is at odds sometimes with the light humorous approach to this story.

Benjamin Wilkin as DC Roy Grace is also interesting with his explanation of why he believes in Kamilas “powers”, but we never get to know his great personal interest in missing persons here and we never get to really explore much of his character here.

Writing a review for a murder story is always difficult, as write too much and you spoil the story for an audience, write too little and you give them no overview of the performance.  Needless to say, a lot more happens here than I have outlined and the plot twists and turns a little, but I am not going to tell you that plot, you have to go and see this one for yourself to find out.

This is not a heavy to sit through murder story, but at times a light-hearted look at the darker humour in a disintegrating marriage.  It is though a thoroughly entertaining night out at the theatre, and much of that success of course lies not only with the story and the script, but also the skills of Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace as actors to give this performance just the gentle touch it requires when needed.

Review by Tom King

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