George Rainsford as DS Roy Grace and Katie McGlynn as his wife Cleo are a little tied up with things on their French holiday

Wish You Were Dead

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


You might not wish you were dead by the time the curtain falls but the will to live has been severely tested by a play that promises far more than it delivers.

It can’t make its mind up whether it is a comedy or a thriller, so manages neither particularly well, and has a plot which seems to be covered in sticking plasters to cover the holes in logic.

Which is a pity as Michael Holt has designed an impressive, gloomy, ideal-for-gothic-horror set, and the cast of nine really do give it their all. Add to that the fact that the TV series of Grace is a hit and we should be on to a surefire winner, but, sadly, silk purses and sow’s ears springs to mind.

Based on one of Peter James’s novels about fighting crime in Brighton, Det Supt Roy Grace, wife Cleo, baby Noah and American friend Kaitlynn Carter arrive on a relaxing holiday, or at least that was the idea, at the Chateau-sur-L’Évêque where they are to be joined by a police colleague Jack.

They arrive in a tremendous storm (Hammer would have added thunder, lightning and a few bats) with no one to greet them until Madame L’Évêque appears from the shadows with a wonderful disdain for the English. It’s a bit ‘Allo ‘Alloish but has its moments of fun in the surly hands of Rebecca McKinnis.

Now a touch of The Mousetraps comes in here with a storm raging outside, the chateau in the back end of nowhere, dodgy electrics – lighting design Jason Taylor by the way – no mobile phone signal, telephone line down, car battery dead and no wifi, or whiffy in Madame-speak. So, a cardinal rule of thrillers has been ticked off, first completely isolate your victims.

Next add the telling sign that all is not well, in this case Jack’s warrant card seemingly having arrived before he did as they are still waiting for him, although the little wheels are starting to turn in the heads of Grace and co that things might not be all they seem - and they did seem pretty odd to start with.

Meanwhile we, the audience that is, find poor old Jack is in a bit of bother in a hidden room behind a very effective scrim in the bedroom. On the audience side the scrim is a panelled wall, with what appears to be a crude tapestry of the Crucifixion, light up behind and we have a torture room in another part of the chateau.


Katie McGlynn's Cleo with friend Kaitlynn, played by Gemma Stroyan

The set is a very solid affair with two levels, giving a living area and stairs up to a bedroom, There are animal heads on the walls, decoration inspired, presumable, by Edgar Allan Poe, and a suit of armour which is to have its own moment to shock the audience. 

The first act is largely about setting the scene, perhaps setting it a bit too much, we get the picture long before the script is satisfied we are following the trail of breadcrumbs, and to be honest, you have to question how Grace got to be a detective, let along a DS, if he hasn’t worked out he is being set up long before the interval drinks are poured.

The ancient, wheelchair bound Vicomte L’Évêque, has one foot, or in his case, wheel, in the grave, that is until he leaps up and terror is made flesh in the shape of Curtis, the Brighton gang boss Grace had sent down 20 years ago on a 15 stretch. Cue another blast of Berlioz’ Requiem, often a bit too loud, cut the lights and off for the ice creams.

The second act builds the tension, but the builders are hardly quick workers. The tension is in danger of drifting into tedium as the same plot points are covered over and over again. The only saving grace is Clive Mantle as Curtis, who seems to be having the time of his life as the deranged head of the Brighton crime family, while Rebecca McKinnis pops up again, revealed as his embittered daughter-in-law, both out for revenge on dear old Roy.

Mantle with beard and sarf London accent comes over as a sort of evil cousin of Only Fools and Horses’ Uncle Albert, waving his sawn off shooter around and even blasting a hole in the ceiling to keep order.

It’s a bit pantomime but fun, and it does brighten up a one dimensional plot. For a start we are short on possible victims, we know Grace will be the target, and as for suspects, there are none, Curtis bags the role for himself, so all we are left with is how Grace and co are going to escape their oh so impossible to escape predicament.

The clue to that might as well be flashing in a neon sign above the stage as Grace is forced to make a phone call - telegraphed would be an understatement.

George Rainsford (Casualty) does a fine job as Grace, never flustered and in control while Katie McGlynn (Coronation Street) was a bit shouty at first but then settled nicely into her role as the feisty wife while Gemma Stroyan gave us a homely American Kailynn. The trio managed the tension with an admirable lack of hysteria and overacting.

Rebecca McKinnis made the two roles of sullen, shrug prone French madame and gun toting Brighton gangster’s widow chalk and cheese, while even Callum Sheridan-Lee as Curtis’s gangster son Brent did his bit as a chip off the old psychopathic block.

As for the police . . . well Jack, Alex Steadman, was rescued, so we hear, while Leon Stewart as Glenn Branson had picked up on Grace’s clue, along with the audience of course, and . . . well let’s not give it all away.

The problem here is that the set and cast deserve better. The plot itself has possibilities with a bit more logic applied, but the script is clunky, too often points are being made and remade while some of the dialogue seems to be there for little more reason than to give the actors something to say.

Audience reaction was mixed, overhearing conversations as we left, some people really enjoyed it, others felt let down; to be fair though it was well done, the cast all on song, but it could have been so much more.  Directed by Jonathan O'boyle the wishing will go on to 24-06-23.

Roger Clarke


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