Theatre review: Les Dennis stars in The Perfect Murder

The Perfect Murder
The Perfect Murder

There’re plenty of twists, turns and intrigue on stage at Milton Keynes Theatre this week with the arrival of novelist Peter James’ black comedy, The Perfect Murder, writes Alan Wooding.

Having spent almost half a year at number one in the best selling book lists, it’s no wonder that one of Britain’s top crime writers would see one of his novels adaptated for the stage to become a huge theatre hit.

There have previously been films with the same, or similar, titles but this stage version stars comedy actor, impressionist and general all round entertainer Les Dennis as the disillusioned Victor Smiley.

Meanwhile his wife of 20 years, Joan Smiley (played by Waking the Dead/Casualty actress Claire Goose), is equally fed up with her spouse in this cracking comedy-cum-thriller.

She moans about his snoring and often resorts to sleeping in the spare room while he complains about her spending habits, especially when he discovers that she has purchased some sexy new underwear on her credit card.

With author Peter James sitting in the Milton Keynes Theatre auditorium on Monday’s opening night, he must have loved the reaction of the audience as Shaun McKenna’s stage adaptation won them over from the moment the curtain lifted.

With plenty of references to television soaps, well known actors and the comical use of bin bags and duct tape, The Perfect Murder has plenty of hilarious moments.

Set in the Sussex town of Saltdene, it focuses on egg-box company IT consultant Victor and his wife Joan who works ten hours a week stacking shelves at Asda. And it’s immediately evident that the couple have grown so far apart that they criticise everything the other does while independently contemplating a final deadly solution!

Victor, who loves cooking, visits pretty Croatian prostitute Kamila Walcak (played by Simona Armstrong) at her ‘Kitten Parlour’ in Brighton three times and week and he plans to run away with her – but first he tells her that he needs to get rid of his wife!

Beside being a sex worker, Kamila is also a clairvoyant in the Doris Stokes mould and she helps naiive police detective constable Roy Grace (Steven Miller) locate the whereabouts of a 14-year-old boy’s body in a build up of what is to follow.

Romanian-born Simona is remembered for reaching the live finals of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s reality show ‘How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria’ so she didn’t really need to try very hard at recreating a believable Slavic accent. However she had some cracking one liners and delivered them perfectly as did the rest of the cast.

Unbeknown to Victor, Joan is also having a fling with slimy (but dim) taxi driver Don Kirk played by former Coronation Street star Gary O’Brien. Don has the annoying habit of trying out his own version of Cockney rhyming slang with comical regularity while he’s constantly reminded by Joan that he doesn’t actually come from London’s East End!

When Victor goes missing, Kamila senses something is wrong and she tips off Detective Grace as she suspects foul play. There are plenty of laughs, twists and some tense drama as the whole cast play out this comedy-cum-mystery brilliantly.

The imaginative three-in-one set design works very well, the Smiley’s lounge and kitchen being the focal point while Kamila’s room is raised up on the left with Victor and Joan’s bedroom on the opposite side.

Sixty-year-old Les Dennis is excellent as Victor and plays his part to perfection although it’s Claire Goose who really steals the limelight as the bitchy, frustrated and playful Joan, the pair sharing some cracking cutting edge dialogue. There’s also plenty of cut and thrust between the couple, but as the sexually frustrated Joan comments: “There’s much more cutting than thrusting!”

There are so many more witty one liners that I won’t spoil it for anyone going to see the show before it closes on Saturday but as a play, The Perfect Murder is two hour of seamless fun.

For tickets, call the Milton Keynes Theatre box office on 08448 717652 (booking fees apply) or on-line at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes