The Perfect Murder is a recent stage adaption by award – winning writer Shaun McKenna of the book by internationally- renowned, best-selling crime novelist Peter James. A comic thriller, it drew a full house for the opening night, reflecting both James’ reputation as a story teller , and the strong reputation which Sutton Arts rightly enjoys for this type of production. Stuart Goodwin directs, one of an unusually strong stable of Directors which the company uses. He can be relied upon to manage twists and turns, as well as shocks and laughs, in a suburban noir thriller certain to keep murder/mystery fans happy.
John Islip and his team have done a fine job with a busy set, which on a relatively small stage, manages to incorporate a marital bedroom, a prostitute’s bedroom, a kitchen, a lounge , a utility room with freezer, and enough doors to keep a farce fan content.
The plot is far simpler than the book. Victor and Joan are unhappily married and are planning to murder each other. Victor is seeing a Croatian prostitute Kamila whom he plans to run away with. Joan is having an affair with handyman Don , who has brought back the spark to her love life. Detective Constable Roy Grace is on hand to ensure that wrongdoers are caught and punished.
Jayne Lunn, as Joan, is the star of the show, a drudge in the lounge with her husband, a sexy minx with her lover under the duvet. Yet her performance would be less effective without the wonderfully dour Richard Cogzell as Victor opposite her. His lofty position as IT manager with the country’s ninth largest manufacturer of egg cartons fails to impress her now. She fills her day by watching crime dramas, mainly to ascertain the best way to commit the perfect murder, and by bedding her lover. Joan’s younger lover, swaggering Don, is always quick to impress with a bare chest, and a comic line in rhyming slang, a curious trait for someone who is revealed on stage to come from Birmingham. Giles Whorton enjoys himself enormously in the role, keeping the running gag of his rhyming slang just the right funny side of tedious. Kate Lowe handles her part as hooker Kamilla well. Looking sassily convincing in the role, she combines overt sex appeal with the laboured ennui of a whore, and apparent psychic powers. The immensely talented Chris Commander makes the best of the fairly underwritten part of detective.
The sex scenes are racy, but not coarse, the humour often as black as a moonless night, and it is the comedy which carries the show. The lesson that all should take is that when acquiring bin bags to dispose of a murder victim, never economise and settle for thin value bags.
Mckenna’s adapted dialogue is strong, the plot development a little clunky, a common issue with book to stage transfers. But it is the sparkling cast who illuminate the show, their enthusiasm, vim and brio, easily smoothing over any plot cracks, ably and confidently led by Stuart Goodwin.
As is common in many murder mysteries, the exact historical setting for the action is opaque, the dress contemporary. However the soundtrack is gloriously eclectic, veering from Take That, to Sting, and the Sex Pistols, often with considerable comic effect. The evening flies by and holds the attention from start to finish, the perfect pick-me-up on a cold January evening for what turns out to be, inevitably, an imperfect murder.
Continues till Sat 3rd February.