This latest adaptation of Peter James’ best-selling novels now makes it the most successful crime thriller stage franchise since Agatha Christie. However, on this evidence, there’s a considerable bridge to gap before James’ stage adaptations can be mentioned in the same breath as the Queen of Crime herself.
That’s not to say there was anything inherently wrong with the plot, which is no doubt finely crafted in James’ novel. Not to mention that the recent ITV adaptation (Grace) has already demonstrated how well the novels translate to our screens. It’s just that condensed into a sub two-hour play, the script felt a little clumsy in places. As audience members, we want that slightly smug feeling that comes with having unravelled the mystery or conundrum before those around us. When the clues are signposted as blatantly as they were in Wish You Were Dead, any ridiculous MI5 credentials you might have perceived in yourself felt a little hollow by the second half.
It started well, with the atmospheric lighting partially revealing a fabulous set, followed by DSI Roy Grace (George Rainsford), his partner Cleo (Giovanna Fletcher), and their nanny, Kaitlynn (Gemma Stroyan), scurrying inside the rural French chateau to escape the storm. From the off, there was a good chemistry between George, Giovanna, and Gemma as they set the scene and laid out vital plot points.
The longer the opening went on though, it became a bit stodgy and one-dimensional, and it suffered from the lack of a commanding stage presence. This was particularly disappointing given that the show had been publicised based on the reputations of George and Giovanna. Thankfully, the proceedings were given a jolt in the arm with the arrival of their host, Madame L’Eveque, played with glorious verve by Rebecca McKinnis. From there, the pace kicked up a notch, and just as the tension started to build, the first half ended on something of a cliff-hanger.
Any clunkiness in the script was forgotten with the emergence in the second half of Clive Mantle’s character, Curtis. Clive’s performance was every bit as good as you’d expect from an actor of his experience and renown, and his charisma and ease on stage was captivating. From there, we knew we were in safe hands, and with able support from Leon Stewart as DI Glenn Branson and a vibrant cameo from Callum Sheridan-Lee as Brent, Wish You Were Dead came to a thrilling conclusion.
Special mention must go to the set design team who, with their ingenuity, ensured the action was always visually engaging. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I really enjoyed their superb use of a somewhat hidden lightbox.
Wish You Were Dead continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until the 25th Feb.