IS there such a thing as the perfect murder? That is the central theme in this new play which premiered in Bath on Monday night.
Adapted from bestselling author Peter James’ book of the same name in the long-running Roy Grace series, The Perfect Murder is an insight into the minds of ordinary people who do the most extraordinary of things.
Billed as a chilling look at how people are driven to murder, it is surprisingly and possibly not intentionally very funny.
Les Dennis stars as downtrodden, ageing husband Victor Smiley who does nothing but moan and annoy his bored and snappy wife Joan (Claire Goose).
The childless couple know full well they have nothing in common any more, no desire for each other and do nothing but make one another’s lives a living hell. Why they don’t just divorce is unknown but as Victor plans his wife’s unusual death by painting the spare room she now sleeps in due to his snoring, with a cyanide-infused Prussian blue from the confines of the brothel he visits three times a week, little does he know his adulterous wife is also plotting to kill.
Concurrently, ambitious young Detective Constable Grace (Steve Miller) is seeking the help of Crotian prostitute Kamila (Simona Armstrong), who has been promised a better life with Victor, owing to her alleged psychic skills.
Joanie and boyfriend Don (Gray O’Brien) manage to murder Victor, albeit not in a way they planned, and proceed to stuff him in a chest freezer after a slapstick attempt to wrap him in bin bags and duck tape.
But there is a shock in store as unforgiving Victor isn’t really dead and embarks on a mission to not only do away with his wife but first terrify her as a ‘ghost’.
Les Dennis is well cast in this role as he takes on the life of a man with a much younger wife, a career in tatters and struggling to be taken seriously.
The former Family Fortunes presenter is convincing in both parts of Victor’s double life; as the miserly, miserable husband who only wants to watch crime dramas and bake macaroons and the reignited punter who falls for a damaged hooker. He leads the audience down the path of incredulity, as we don’t believe a foolish man who does nothing but make egg boxes for a living is capable of getting away with murder, and draws out of you some feeling of compassion as a rather pathetic figure.
Dennis is occasionally laboured in his delivery of some lines, with particularly pantomime emphasis on his character’s catchphrase What Would Sherlock Do, but it doesn’t matter – most of the time you are either laughing too much to care or waiting for the next quip aimed at current actors including the most recent Sherlock, Benedict ‘Cucumber’batch.
His apparition as a ghost is certainly a sight to behold and the audience in Bath were unsure whether this was a serious scare or another laugh.
Goose, of Casualty fame, plays a gossiping housewife turned scarlet woman with great passion and dexterity. Although Peter James’ character seems somewhat out-of-date to me (how many women still of childbearing age have friends called Madge and Maureen and hang up pictures of fluffy kittens these days?), Goose tries her best to portray the unloved, sexless wife with an undeniably annoying Essex twang and constant nagging.
Her scenes with O’Brien are hilarious as the pair panic over where to stash the body, leading to one of the funniest lines of the play as Don empties a freezer full of food only to be tempted by some mini kievs, while Victor’s body lies half in and half out of the contentiously-expensive chest freezer.
O’Brien, known to millions as Coronation Street’s evil Tony Gordon, is without doubt the comedy character of the cast of five. Reciting ridiculous attempts at Cockney rhyming slang and showing a lot of flesh on numerous occasions, his cab-driver character gives the play a big burst of energy.
Miller and Armstrong are strong in support and a realistic set over just three rooms is effectively managed with spotlighting, doors which open of their own accord and an unseen but audible TV screen.
Whilst it’s unclear whether The Perfect Murder is meant to be a thriller loaded with suspense or the comedy it actually is, the play’s intentions don’t matter. It works because it is funny and because the combined cast couldn’t be funnier.
The Perfect Murder is on at Bath’s Theatre Royal until Saturday, January 18.