Review: Wish You Were Dead. Nottingham Theatre Royal

Peter James – Wish You Were Dead

Peter James – Novelist

Shaun McKenna – Stage Adaptor

Jonathan O’Boyle – Director

Nottingham Theatre Royal

Tuesday 28th February – Saturday 4th March 2023

This week sees the world-premiere stage adaptation of Peter James’ Wish You Were Dead. Many of you may already know the character of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace thanks to the best-selling novels, previous stage adaptations and the ITV series starring John Simm.  Consequently, if you like your thrillers with the requisite twists and turns, bumps in the night and the odd red herring, then Wish You Were Dead could be just for you.

The premise is one that many of us might have experienced ourselves. You arrive at your ‘idyllic’ holiday destination, only to find that the accommodation isn’t quite what you thought it would be. Those photos on the internet don’t look like the place itself and where are all those wonderful ‘facilities’ that you’ve been promised?

Author Peter James once found himself in this situation and it’s from here that the seeds of Wish You Were Dead were sown. Accordingly, the action takes place in the present day in rural France at the suitably named Chateau-sur-L’Évêque.  

DSI Grace (George Rainsford) and Cleo Morey (Giovanna Fletcher) have made the arduous journey seemingly to the middle of nowhere along with their three-month-old son, Noah, and friend/nanny, Kaitlynn (Gemma Stroyan).

Cleo is hoping that she can get Grace to herself for some well-deserved rest and relaxation away from the demands of police work. As you might expect, it turns out to be the holiday from hell, where nothing is as it seems and the past comes back to haunt the happy couple.

They begin by arriving at the chateau in the foulest of weather; the rain is lashing down in a definite nod to pathetic fallacy. The drive has been long, tiring and difficult. Furthermore, there is no one there to greet them. When they finally get the lights to work, Grace announces, ‘It looked better in the dark.’

The set by Michael Holt is a winning design. It dominates the whole stage in a suitably oppressive manner. Everywhere you look is dark wood, often with elaborate carvings, heavy furniture and fabrics, leaded windows and stuffed mounted animal heads, the gruesome relics of erstwhile hunting trips.

There’s a suit of armour with a threatening halberd and a gruesome picture of the crucifixion hanging above the bed. It would definitely give you nightmares. You feel you have stepped back in time to the world of Agatha Christie. Even the flowers on the bar are artificial and the bottles of liqueur seem to glow in an other-worldly fashion. You immediately fear for the young couple, despite their best efforts to make light of the situation. ‘This place is a death-trap,’ declares Cleo prophetically.

Eventually, the visitors are ‘welcomed’ by the brusque Madame L’Évêque (Rebecca McKinnis). She begins the play as the suspicious French hostess and ends it as something entirely different. The contrast in these dual roles makes this my favourite performance of the night.

Rainsford as Grace performs proficiently, but is perhaps a little too clean-cut to be the world-weary and tortured DSI. Giovanna Fletcher seems nervous, which I can fully understand, but there is a tendency to shout rather than project, which ultimately is distracting.

Fan favourite, Clive Mantle, provides reliable support as Curtis, as does Leon Stewart as Glenn Branson and Callum Sheridan-Lee as Brent. I would like to see more of Alex Stedman who makes a brief appearance as Jack, too.

Not wishing to give away spoilers, as events unfold, the tension builds and the criminal world intrudes on proceedings. The plot is fairly predictable and there is a great deal of exposition in Act 2, but this play does what you expect it to do. It is a modern-day thriller with all the jeopardy and sudden revelations that one has come to anticipate from the genre.

If you like your detective stories with the element of surprise and a dash of humour thrown in, then this new adaptation may well prove intriguing. For those old enough to remember, perhaps a case of Wish You Were Here rather than Wish You Were Dead?

Running Time – 2 hours approx (including interval)

Rating 3*

Age Guidance – 13+

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