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23rd May 2023

Review: Wish You Were Dead

Out of the four adaptations of Peter James’ books that I have seen, Wish You Were Dead, starring George Rainsford and Katie McGlynn, translated the worse onto the stage
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Review: Wish You Were Dead
Katie McGlynn, George Rainsford and Leon Stewart. Photo: Wish You Were Dead

Contrary to the name, the sixth instalment of Peter James’ best-selling crime novel series has a distinct lack of death…

Wish You Were Dead centres around Roy Grace, who has taken time out of his crime solving exploits to holiday in France with his wife Cleo, Kaitlynn their American nanny, and their ceramic baby.

Upon arrival to the chateau, they are greeted only by the lowly Madam L’Eveque whose contempt for the couple is palpable. As the play continues, it becomes clear how isolated they are, with no Wi-Fi or phone signal and the suspicious delay of their friend and colleague, Jack.

The first act does well to build the suspicion of something being seriously wrong, aided by well-timed lighting cues and ominous swells of sinister music. The set design by Michael Holt adds a gloomy and threatening feel to the scenes which are being played out, giving an unmistakeable sense of impending doom. It is very reminiscent of And Then There Were None and The Mousetrap but the dialogue and the pacing of the storytelling
fail to deliver the same high stakes tension that the Agatha Christie masterpieces do so well.

At the crux of Act 1 (spoiler), the Vicomte reveals himself to be Curtis, a notorious crime lord from Brighton who blames Grace for the death of his son. Madam L’Eveque is revealed to be Curtis’ daughter0in-law and both are soon joined by another family member, Brent, with the whole facade having been set up to allow the family to exact their revenge.

The second act focuses entirely on how Roy and Cleo will miraculously escape this scenario and live to fight another day (probably in the next
instalment of the series).

This is the second time I have seen Roy Grace portrayed onstage, and I found George Rainsford’s characterisation slightly lacking. He has a calm demeanour and likeable personality which is much more suited to his portrayal of a doctor on Casualty than a Superintendent of a major crime unit.

Katie McGlynn (who we recently interviewed) overacted and, in some places, it felt she was shouting her way through some of the tenser scenes instead of developing the fear that was required of the character.

Whilst Clive Mantle also fell victim to overacting, the villainous and insincere nature of Curtis meant it wasn’t as jarring or out of place as it was with the ‘good guys’ and was very enjoyable. Some of the dialogue and acting choices made by Clive Mantle hinted to things that never came to fruition, and it was questionable why they were included at all.

I was most impressed with Rebecca McKinnis’ portrayal of Madam L’Eveque. Having seen McKinnis in two musical theatre roles previously. I was
unsure how well the acting would translate to a more serious play but her characterisation both in the first and second act was faultless, and I am excited to see her next project.

Shaun McKenna’s adaptation leaves the main characters both underdeveloped and very two-dimensional, with the villains being given the best material to play around with. Furthermore, the ending felt very Scooby-Doo.

By the second act, all the tension that they had spent the first one building so convincingly was completely dispersed as the people who were in danger were the only two characters that had to survive as the play is based off a book series. The ending felt very lacklustre, and you came away feeling short-changed with the promise of a murder mystery thriller that had no death or fright to it.

If you are an avid fan of Peter James and his works, like I am, you will appreciate the references to other characters and stories within the Roy Grace universe but will wonder why they chose to adapt this book when there is a myriad of other options.

Out of the four adaptations of Peter James’ books that I have seen, this one translated the worse onto the stage. With the popularity of the new Grace series on TV, there should be a shift back to adapting his stand-alone books so we can once again witness impeccability similar to that of The Perfect Murder or just stick to reading the books in their original form.

 

Wish You Were Dead runs at The Lowry (Lyric Theatre) until May 27 and tours the UK until July 29.

Written by Evie Andrew


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