by Nick Mabey.
Shaun Mckenna’s adaptation of Peter James’ latest DCI Grace novel is an enjoyable romp in the French countryside. Our protagonist takes his young family and their friend/nanny on a much needed holiday, only to find themselves stuck in a dark, almost gothic chambre-d’hote, whose owners are at first missing, then eccentric, before finally showing their true colours.
Not so much a whodunnit, more a whoisit/whydidthey combination, Wish You Were Dead treats its audience to plenty of humour, action and the occasional genuine scare. If the plot is a little contrived – there are a few liberties taken in order to keep the story moving on – it is held together by the energy and heightened performances of the cast.
Unencumbered by any knowledge of the source material (of which there is plenty, 19 books and counting), I found our hero, played by George Rainsford, to be a disarmingly fresh-faced detective, seemingly un-grizzled despite at least twenty years of chasing hardened criminals. Along with his equally perky wife Cleo (Katie McGlynn) and their baby son Noah, Roy Grace maintains remarkably calm and upbeat as their holiday from hell unfolds in front of them. There is a thoroughly modern spirit to this young, upwardly-mobile family that made the contrast with their surroundings all the more stark.
The stage itself is beautifully and creatively set. The chambre d’hote is filled with antiques and oddities, some of which play an active role in proceedings. The set design (Michael Holt) cleverly combines a reception room, where most of the action takes place, with a honeymoon suite and there’s even a way of showing action in the attic occasionally. The pace of the play is well served by there being no need for scenery changes, meaning shifts in time can be handled simply with lighting and music.
Often in the thriller genre the villains make for the most colourful characters and this is true in Wish You Were Dead. They don’t reveal themselves until some way into the play and so I risk entering plot-spoiler territory if I say too much. But I want to declare the joy and fear I felt in the company of rogues, who managed to travel the spectrum from loveable to downright nasty and back again.
Wish You Were Dead is playing at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton 6-10th June, 7.30pm.
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