New Victoria Theatre, Woking – until 11 February 2017
This latest stage adaptation of a Peter James novel is surprisingly chilling and graphic in detail, but with moments of humour that seem oddly placed. What happens if you have a murder suspect who says he was in one place yet there is evidence that he was somewhere else? Or an alibi that says he was with her but he denies it? These are just a couple of intricate mysteries that DS Roy Grace has to solve in order to uncover the murderer – who could be closely connected to him.
Shaun McKenna’s sharp adaptation of the original novel by Peter James has plenty of intensity to leave audiences heads spinning, while Ian Talbot’s production is sharply focused when it comes to solving the mystery, but throwing in DS Roy Grace’s relationship with Cleo it can become easily distracted. It adds nothing (unless you have read the books) to bring up Grace’s missing wife constantly, adding the triviality of whether Grace should move in with Cleo or not.
There are also occasional moments in which humour is used to break the tension, but these moments also break the intensity and focus of the story which may humanise the characters but don’t make much of an impact.
But on the other side of this, the atmosphere throughout is chilling and at times relatively graphic in detail as Grace discusses what happened exactly to the murder victims, but somehow never reveals anything of substance until it is almost too late in the climax of the show – it is clever as it allows the audience to come up with several different theories, yet goes on to disprove them with ease and elegance, leading to an unexpected twist.
There are some solid performances from the cast, providing a solid reliability to put the story across as strongly as possible. Stephen Billington as Brian Bishop is particularly effective throughout, successfully managing to confuse the audience from beginning to end, by turns likeable and charming to frustrating and angry at how the police are treating him. Gemma Stroyan as Bella provides excellent support to Shane Richie’s DS Roy Grace and Michael Quartey as Glenn Branson.
Shane Richie as DS Roy Grace is perhaps slightly too laid back to be completely convincing as the character’s paranoia begins to expose itself – but it is a likeable performance all the same. Meanwhile, Laura Whitmore as Cleo (making her professional theatre debut) delivers an intelligent and occasionally feisty performance but needs to work on projecting her voice as some of her speeches were a little bit lost.
Overall, it is a gripping production of a chilling story and certainly keeps audiences effectively guessing until the very end about what happened, but needs a few tweaks here and there to make it a stronger production.