DEAD SIMPLE by Peter James.
Nottingham Theatre Royal.
Here is one murder mystery/thriller that includes more twists and turns than a Big Dipper with one moment in the play that received a collective gasp which started the twists in motion.Adapted from Peter James' best selling novel by Shaun McKenna and wonderfully directed with Hitchcockian flair by Ian Talbot.
"Dead Simple" is the story of a stag night prank which goes tragically wrong after the stags placing the intended groom, Michael Harrison in a coffin and burying him, just for a laugh you understand, while they head off to a lap dancing club for an hour or two. Unfortunately for them, and Michael, the van they were driving is involved in a head on collision and they are all killed, leaving Michael with just the walkie talkie they gave him to contact them with, and no way of escape.
There is a ray of hope for Michael after a couple of days when the walkie talkie from the crashed van is answered by one Davy Wheeler. Infatuated by American police shows but having learning difficulties, Davy does not quite grasp the urgency of the situation, and afraid to tell his dad because he wasn't supposed to remove items from crash scenes, Michael's life hangs in the balance.
A brilliant cast which created a suffocating air of tension. Tina Hobley, looking gorgeous with those long legs which she puts to good use in a scene almost from a Sharon Stone film, is believable as the distraught bride to be, Ashley. Jamie Lomas is Michael Harrison, the multi millionaire property developer. They made a lovely couple, if only they could have made it to the altar!
Rik Makarem plays Michael's childhood friend, business partner and best man, Mark Warren, who had to miss out on the stag night, and all the shenanigans, after being called away on business in Leeds.
Michael Mckell is Ashleigh's Canadian uncle, over for the wedding, who decides to go back to Canada after discovering something may not be all it seems with his niece.
Marc Small (Detective Sergeant Branson) and Gray O Brien are the investigators on the case, Gray playing James' hero, Detective Superintendant Roy Grace, who get to the bottom of this twist laden thriller.
Josh Brown makes his professional theatre debut as Davey Wheeler. You would not have guessed that this was his debut because he is a very natural actor in a role that could have been played a little over the top, but wasn't and ended as a sympathetic portrayal of a young man with learning difficulties.
There's not one, or two but three relationships in this play that end up not being as straight forward as we would first think and they are not that obvious, which is why this play is as tense ridden as it is. Someone had a lot to gain from Michael being dead, but who?
You actually get the suffocating feeling of being in the coffin, and Peter James himself had himself incarcerated for a short while so that he could experience what it felt like. That is what you call drawing on experience for character driven writing.
What can I say about the set designed by Michael Taylor? Separated into three sections, Ashley and Michael's apartment flat, Davey Wheeler's bedroom, which also doubled up into a couple of other minor settings, and a wonderful night time woodland setting, complete with car, where Michael was "buried". This section was raised above the stage so that you could then see the buried coffin in the ground and feel the claustrophobic atmosphere.
I love the little technical touches of this play which really made everything so real. Just little things like the mobile phones actually lighting up when they were ringing, This showed that a lot of effort had gone into the small things which can sometimes be forgotten. And what really bugs me is when someone is shot or stabbed and there is no blood, or it looks fake, well don't worry because there is blood which looks like the real thing and gore as well here.
If you like murder mysteries with plenty of twists, surprises and shocks, then you are going to love this very clever play. As good as anything Durbridge or Christie has done, but be prepared for one bit which will have you jump out of your skin.
Oh, and if you were wondering why the strange choice of title, then you'll have to wait for the very end, when it is revealed where the title came from.
"Dead Simple" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 18 April 2015.