Victor Smiley knows a lot about murder. In fact almost as much as author and expert Peter James. I’d be seriously worried about befriending either man.
In The Perfect Murder, brilliantly adapted for the stage by Shaun McKenna, Victor wants to kill his wife and, as it turns out, she wants to kill him. It’s baffling why neither thought of divorce but that would have ruined the plot.
The entertaining and darkly humorous thriller opened last night at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre and let’s hope there were no disgruntled spouses in the audience.
Gosh he’s inventive, is IT manager, master baker, and diabetic Mr Smiley and he’s been watching way too many TV detective series. His plans to knock off wife Joan are inspired.
Frustrated with the lack of sex at home Victor has been frequenting a Croatian prostitute (who just happens to be psychic – everyone has a handle).
He wants to collect his wife’s life insurance and run away with the heavily-accented Kamila.
Unfortunately Joan has also had enough after 20 years of tedium. The love has well and truly died and the only high-point of the couple’s week is when they get stuck into a blazing row each Sunday morning.
No wonder that she starts an affair with a rather hunky taxi driver called Don Kirk (no sniggering) who, in another life, used to be the evil but sexy Tony Gordon in Coronation Street.
So, we have our players and, once murder has been committed (I’m not saying whose), we have the arrival of our detective.
Roy Grace is a regular in James’ books and, in this re-cast tour, he’s played with confidence by Thomas Howes who some may recognise as William the second footman from Downton (who married a reluctant Daisy and then got shot in Flanders – keep up).
There’s a bit of Columbo, what with the rain-mac, the dour, hang-dog expression and relentless dedication – though, thankfully, no awful cigar.
But Grace is also prepared to accept help from the unlikeliest people if it secures a conviction.
I saw The Perfect Murder earlier this year and this second leg of its tour has seen a lot of cast changes.
Simona Armstrong‘s husky accent is still impenetrable and Grey O’Brien, as Don, struggles with his English accent (over his native Scots) but both have become bolder with their characters.
At one point Grey has to swallow a reference to Corrie and almost gives himself a hernia humping a body into a freezer.
But Don’s fondness for taking off his shirt shows that the actor is keeping himself in fine shape during the tour.
The biggest changes are in the leading roles. We’ve gone from Les Dennis and Claire Goose to Robert Daws and Dawn Steele and there is a noticeable difference in the atmosphere of the production.
Daw’s interpretation is much darker and menacing whereas squeaky-voiced Les played a lot of the lines for laughs. Both are great performances.
Robert Daws has excelled in playing dull, ordinary, middle-aged, middle-management men throughout his career and the murderous Victor is a turn up for the books.
There’s a moment when Victor threatens his wife and it’s genuinely scary (and I’d call the police if Robert’s actress wife Amy Robbins sees him going for the Prussian Blue paint in Homebase – who knew?).
Steele’s Joan has more than a touch of Lady Macbeth about her. She’s a terrifying, cold-blooded, character.
This is a clever, funny and inventive thriller that bubbles (much like someone who has drunk cyanide) along with a witty line in dialogue that frequently references popular TV crime shows.
I almost expected Grissom or Sherlock Holmes (you know, the one with the nice bum) to make a cameo appearance.
The Perfect Murder runs at Aylesbury Waterside until Saturday.
Remaining tour dates:
October 27-November 1, New Wimbledon Theatre November 4-8, New Theatre, Cardiff November 10-15, New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham