Chris Eldon Lee reviews Peter James’ “The Perfect Murder” which is at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn until Saturday 20th September 2014.
Whilst researching this story, author Peter James asked his local Chief Constable if there was such a thing as the perfect murder. “Yes”, came the instant reply. “They’re the ones we never hear about”.
There are 600 detected homicides in the UK each year. And for every one of those, there’s probably another, unknown murder. So – if you’re interested – the chances of getting away with it are about 50 – 50. And that’s the case in this play.
After 20 years of fading marriage, Victor (who is fixated on Sherlock Holmes) and Joan (who is equally fixated on a swarthy taxi driver) have got to the point where bumping off the other is an attractive prospect…. especially if it’s done ‘perfectly’.
The question is, who will bump off who?
Shaun McKenna has been entrusted with adapting James’ novel for the stage and I gather he’s done it pretty faithfully – except that there is a new, more dramatic ending and he’s injected Detective Constable Roy Grace into the plot to clear up the crime. Grace is a regular in James’ later work – so we see him here at the start of his career; a bit like Morse being succeed by his younger self, Endeavour.
But we don’t see very much of Grace. James seems more interested in the villain and the victim than the valiant upholder of the law, who really is a rather minor character on stage.
The big guns are the ‘baddies’ (i.e. everybody else) and they’re brilliantly drawn and exquisitely portrayed by a cracking cast.
Robert Daws and Dawn Steele are excruciatingly superb as the couple whose marriage is reduced to a constant round of painful bickering. Sunday is Squabble Day and there is witty invention in their rancour. They are so dismissive of each other they really get the audience squirming in their seats for fear we might recognise something.
It’s another minor character who drives the detection forward….in the alluring but unlikely form of a Croatian psychic prostitute – played with east European authenticity by Simona Armstrong (who actually comes from Rumania). The fact that her psychometry proves invaluable to the investigation is perhaps an author’s convenience. But her cool, calculating and deceptively matter-of-fact performance of a girl trapped by strange powers and circumstance is a lovely piece of acting.
All in all, it’s a lively play that soars above its own improbabilities and delivers a fair few shocks along the way. There are plenty of clues to keep everyone guessing – for example, a hammer in the utility draw and a recently purchased chest freezer – and a plethora of telling throw away lines like “There’s no such things as ghosts”. This is topped by a particularly ingenious final twist to floor us all.
‘The Perfect Murder’ is about as good as detective drama gets and last night’s full house proved just how popular the genre continues to be.
Visit www.theatresevern.co.uk for bookings & information about Theatre Severn