Review: WISH YOU WERE DEAD (UK Tour), Theatre Royal Brighton

UK Tour running until Sat 29 July, 2023

Photos: First Look at 42ND STREET at Curve, Leicester and Sadler's Wells

Photos: First Look at 42ND STREET at Curve, Leicester and Sadler's WellsBest-selling playwright and Brighton-boy Peter James made his homecoming on Monday evening at the Theatre Royal Brighton with his most recent stage adaptation of Wish You Were Dead.

Wish You Were Dead - a short story supplement to James' infamous Roy Grace novella series - sees Grace head to rural France for a holiday with his wife and friends. But their accommodation doesn't quite live up to expectations, and soon after their arrival, things take a sinister turn.

Aptly kicking off its UK Tour in James' hometown - and that of his protagonist detective Roy Grace - this stage adaptation by Shaun McKenna is capably performed and authentically menacing in its simplicity, but a problem with pacing prevents it from fulfilling its full potential.

Act 1 takes too long in getting to the point. Whilst I can understand the value of 'less is more', it felt like too much time was spent dwelling on exposition which made Act 1 feel laborious, despite its short run time of around 55mins. However, it did serve to effectively cement the relationships between the primary characters, particularly Roy Grace and his wife, Cleo.

A best-selling author herself, Giovanna Fletcher, takes on the role of Cleo and is no stranger to the stage, having most recently starred in 2:22 A Ghost Story at the Gielgud. She is at her best when understated - particularly in Act 2 when she has to convey a complex combo of fear, grief and bravery, which she does skilfully. Unfortunately, it felt like her performance in Act 1 was hampered by some sound issues as her delivery was often shouted rather than projected.

George Rainsford puts in a capable turn as the titular character, a softly spoken yet outrageously smart detective and husband, proving that not every hero needs to fight with his fists...although we do get a little bit of fisty-cuff action towards the end, for those that enjoy that kind of thing.

Rebecca McKinnis shines brightly as Madame L' Évêque, a superbly realised character that showcases McKinnis' versatility. Clive Mantle's appearance in Act 2 injects some much-needed black humour into the proceedings...and is concerningly charismatic given his villainous credentials...! In fact, Act 2 in general ramps up in every way - engaging, dramatic, funny, confusing....and evokes some genuinely gasp-out-loud moments.

Huge kudos must go to the set, lighting and sound designers (Michael Holt, Jason Taylor and Max Pappenheim) who have managed to create some incredibly potent effects, which is no mean feat on a touring set. The light and shade of the narrative is mirrored perfectly by the effects put in place which - with the exception of a couple - are very impressively delivered.

Wish You Were Dead starts slowly but ends with a bang, literally and figuratively. With the ITV Grace series adaptation on screens at the moment, this play will undoubtedly appeal to the wider masses as well as stalwart Roy Grace fans...just don't expect to be on the edge of your seat.

Wish You Were Dead is at Theatre Royal Brighton until 25 March, then touring

Photo credit: Danny Fitzpatrick


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