REVIEW: Wish You Were Dead – the past comes knocking at the midnight hour
Critically-acclaimed crime writer Peter James sees his 2021 novella transformed into a psychological stage play laced with black comedy.
Wish You Were Dead is currently playing at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham.
British writer Peter James, dubbed the ‘Best Crime Author of All Time’ by a popular high street bookseller, sees one of his bestselling novels turned into a play.
Wish You Were Dead is adapted for the stage by Shaun McKenna who has previously adapted five other books by Peter James for the stage.
The story follows Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and his pathologist wife Cleo who decide to take a much needed break from solving horrific crimes. The crime fighting duo set off on a family holiday to France and enjoy some quality time with their baby son.
However, upon arrival at their holiday destination – a creepy looking château – their holiday begins to slide into a murky nightmare, which includes moments of black comedy, as criminal elements from the UK follow the couple to France to wreck vengeance.
The rich and atmospheric set design by Michael Holt recreates the interior of the French château complete with a full medieval suit of armour, the heads of a wild boar and bison mounted on the walls, a carpeted staircase, radius windows, and paintings gracing the upper levels of the building.
Holt’s gorgeous set is accentuated by some sublime lighting by Jason Taylor.
Max Pappenheim’s sound is unnerving – the way the cries and murmurs of the baby are conjured is unearthly – and it complemented and added a gothic texture to the proceedings.
Director Jonathan O’Boyle made excellent use of the decorative set, and the movement of the performers ensures the audience gets to see the set being utilised in a really dramatic manner.
George Rainsford (from Casualty) is very good as Roy Grace and his character changes as the mood of the play shifts from drama to comedy and vice-versa. He also shares a lovely chemistry with Katie McGlynn (from Coronation Street, Hollyoaks and Waterloo Road) who plays his resourceful and fast-thinking wife Cleo.
Clive Mantle (from The Vicar of Dibley, Game of Thrones, Casualty, and Holby City) plays the villainous role of Curtis who has come in search of revenge.
Mantle is an excellent actor and gives his role such a three-dimensional aspect that he had the audience siding with him in some of the scenes where his character’s motivations are contrasted with some of the shallowness displayed by the holidaying couple.
Rebecca McKinnis, who takes on the role of Madame L’Eveque who runs the château, is simple jaw-dropping. To reveal too much about her character would be to ruin the play for those unfamiliar with the novel.
McKinnis is so raw and real that it was hard to think of her performance as ‘acting’. It went beyond that. Much further. Her natural aura, vocal delivery and passion were evident in every scene she appeared in. This is a truly gifted artist who should be snapped up for a television drama and given a central role.
Despite the excellent acting and high quality stage production, the play does have flaws. The plot is too predictable and lacks a gripping mystery which is crucial for crime stories, and the coincidences in the narrative also reduce the emotional power of the tale.
The material seems to stretch three ways – comedy romp, crime drama, and gothic thriller – and by not concentrating on one element the play becomes a tad loose and melodrama clouds some of the scenes. More suspense and tension may have tightened up the material.
Wish You Were Dead is a campy and riotous night at the theatre, and it offers a perfect distraction from the dreariness and depression of the world outside the auditorium.
VERDICT: ★ ★★☆☆
Wish You Were Dead is now playing at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until Saturday 24 June