Review: Wish You Were Dead at Newcastle Theatre Royal
Wish You Were Dead – Newcastle Theatre Royal – Monday 13th March
The work of bestselling author Peter James returns to the stage with an all-star cast including Casualty’s George Rainsford and Clive Mantle plus the multi-talented Giovanna Fletcher.
When Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and Cleo Grace take their first holiday together, they hope for a few days away from their dark worlds of murder and the mortuary. But their dream escape turns out to be a holiday from hell. Adapted exclusively for the stage, Wish You Were Dead is Peter James’ latest thrilling installment of the Grace series.
At the beginning of lockdown, I took my Mam to the Theatre Royal to see the last adaption of the Peter James series – Looking Good Dead, which starred Ian Beale actor Adam Woodyatt. We absolutely adored it so I was super excited to find out yet another gripping tale had been adapted for the stage. I had high hopes before even arriving at the venue. Plus, me and my best friend were fangirling before we went about Giovanna Fletcher being part of this wonderful line up too as long time McFly fans. I was intrigued to see how she would carry out her role of Cleo Grace and whether I would enjoy her onstage.
As we entered the theatre I couldn’t help but be amazed by the wonderful scenery. Every inch the outdated, creepy chateaux- it was bound to be great from the off! From mounted deer heads to suit of armor and not forgetting the dusty, well loved furniture. This setting was where the whole story would unfold. I do enjoy this if done properly and they were able to manage the use of space very well. The levels on the stage really helped this; having the bedrooms up the stairs provided a clever use of space and you were actually transported to another setting. They also had a surprise use of a gauze at the top of the stage… but I won’t say too much more on that as I don’t want to give away any of the story. Simple and effective is how I’d describe it- no gimmicks needed. Paired with a great Peter James storyline of course it is easy to get away with keeping the other parts straightforward. Shaun McKenna as the Stage Adaptor did a truly wonderful job here alongside Michael Holt as the designer.
Another very fresh twist as always from the brilliant author throwing our usual murder-mystery/ modern day crime story right into the 21st Century. I’m all for an Agatha Christie throwback but they can feel a little dated these days. I loved the costuming and language used throughout as it just makes it feel all the more believable and real. Bravo to the costuming team of Chrissy Maddison and Maisie Wilkins. It started a little quiet on stage and I feel like the mics should have been louder particularly when the characters were not yet on stage. It was quite a mature audience and I had heard the lady next to me complain about the sound quality. It did become much clearer throughout the performance so potentially they were just ironing out the levels.
I won’t lie, I did find the first twenty minutes a little slow as the story was being set. There was a lot of interaction with our three main characters but as soon as the ball started rolling I was hooked. Just as if I was involved right in the middle of an episode of ITV’s Grace. You could clearly see the comradery and connection that had been built on stage as I was convinced Cleo and Roy were a real couple. It really did feel authentic. By the end of the first half, which was a modest 45 minutes, I wanted the curtain to open straight back up so I could find out what was about to happen next. I always love shorter acts within plays as it keeps the pace. Our second act was slightly longer at 52 minutes but was incredibly entertaining and truly kept us on the edge of our seats trying to figure out how Roy would get himself out of this sticky situation.
George Rainsford played the most perfect Roy Grace- loveable, a little cheeky and forever the optimist. Work obsessed Grace had to take a back seat for his holiday and he certainly couldn’t relax. He was able to command the stage and gave great light and shade to his performance. I particularly enjoyed when he told Madame to be quiet with the baby then shouted at the top of his lungs. Oh, the irony.
Giovanna Fletcher played his beloved wife and mortician Cleo. I found her performance a little one tone at the beginning but she really came into her own after the first ten minutes. Amazing stage presence and her physical acting and body language was top tier during the bleak scenes throughout Act Two. She definitely surpassed my expectations which I was super happy about. The American friend and nanny Kaitlynn Carter played by Gemma Stroyan was strong throughout, providing great comedy and giving real intensity to her performance.
My favourite part had to be played by our terribly French accented Madame L’Eveque played by Rebecca McKinnis. Rude, disinterested and hilarious she played the part perfectly alongside her wicked twist. She delivered her lines perfectly and even joked in the beginning about her terrible accent- which I have to admit, at times, certainly did not sound French – maybe more Russian? Nevertheless, great comedic timing and use of the stage. I found myself drawn to her even when she was not delivering any lines.
Our true baddy, Curtis played by acting veteran Clive Mantle was spectacular. He worked the stage with ease and had the audience in the palm of his hand. I found myself and those around me giggling away at his jokes even though we were all terrified of him! You could see his confidence and experience shine through when he took to the stage. A real masterclass of an acting performance. I felt so comfortable watching him. His son, Brent, was played by Callum Sheridan-Lee who also did a spectacular job even though he only took to the stage for a brief time.
The lighting was used well throughout and the darkness provided an eerie feeling to the chateaux- just what was needed. I did find myself jumping at the flickering lights and the pitch blackness upon stage. The lights allowed the one set scene to come to life as it provided us with the ability to separate from the living room to the bedrooms easily. Without such good lighting I do not feel like the set would have reached its greatest potential. Well done to the Lighting Designer Jason Taylor for doing such a great job here.
Sound was composed and delivered by Max Papprenheim and I always find this makes or breaks a crime/ murder play. This was executed to perfection and the levels were just right. Between scenes loud, chilling music had been chosen and separated the scenes perfectly. Throughout, the sound provided great comedy, shock and interest for the audience. It completed the show to perfection.
What a quaint show! What a quaint set!
A truly brilliant story, as always from James, brought to life in this adaptation. A real twist at the end too and certainly not one to be missed. I had a wonderful evening and was on the edge of my seat throughout the whole of Act Two. Well done to the whole team surrounding this production and to the actors for their great delivery of what could have been a complicated script.
This show will be running until Saturday 18th March- perfect for anyone who enjoys a crime drama!
Venue – 5/5
Show – 4/5
Review by Robyn McGough