VICTOR and Joan Smiley are the kind of bickering, sniping couple who never get invited to dinner parties. Whatever spark ignited their relationship has long been extinguished, and all that’s left is bitterness. But would a normal, respectable, middle-class couple really resort to thoughts of how to commit the perfect murder?
According to Peter James, whose novella has been adapted for stage by Shaun McKenna, the answer is yes. The bestselling author of the Roy Grace detective novels has spent decades picking the brains of top detectives, and discovered that there is such a thing as a perfect murder — it’s the one that no one ever hears about.
The play opens with the kind of ambient music you would expect to hear in an elevator, which signals straight away that this is a comedy and perhaps not to be taken too seriously. It’s just as well, because Les Dennis, who plays Victor, is a natural comedian. Known to the nation as the doyen of game shows like Family Fortunes, he’s the sort of rotund, avuncular guy who makes you smile just by walking into the room.
Victor and Joan (Claire Goose) may hate one another’s guts, and they may both be carrying on with their respective bits of fluff (a brawny taxi driver and a Croatian call girl) but the repartee between them is very funny. And there are some true comic moments in this play. I don’t want to give the game away, but think black plastic binliners and duck tape being desperately administered to a corpse over the living room sofa.
Roy Grace investigates as a fledgling detective constable keen to make a good impression, and his dabblings with the “psychic” powers of one of his informants is an intriguing sub-plot.
This show has high production values, with a slickly designed set and top-notch acting. Dennis wants to get back into serious theatre and he shows his versatility in this role.
I was never quite convinced that the Smileys hated one another enough for murder — their banter seemed affectionate at times — but I’m prepared to bow to Peter James’ superior knowledge. After all, that missing neighbour who ran off with the au pair to Australia could well be lying in a shallow grave.
•Continues to March 15. Box office 01494 512000.
The Perfect Murder
Monday, March 10