The thriller and the theatre have been bedfellows for years. From Gaslight to Sleuth the West End and the regions used to house them regularly but in recent years they have disappeared from the repertory somewhat. So it’s refreshing to see Peter James’ Dead Simple go full out on the thriller without the in-jokes and ironic commentary used by later productions, such as the masterly Deathtrap, which rather unfortunately killed the form dead. So we get a twisty, turning, fun couple of hours, with plenty of holes in the script, a few flaws in the acting but riding along on a pure sense of pulp in this sure production by director Ian Talbot.
When rich property developer Michael Harrison (Jamie Lomas) is buried alive as a practical joke by his friends as part of a stag do, he finds a nasty situation becoming a hundred times worse when they are all wiped out in a car accident on the way home. The only person who knows his location now is his business partner and best friend Mark (Rik Makarem) but does he want to find his mate? Or is it better that he remains out of the picture? Into the investigation enters Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, with the usual tragic past and the more unusual reliance on a psychic to help in his investigations.
Grace is a supporting player in his own investigation, a rather unfortunate turn, caused by the fact that this is one investigation in a series. So where James can drip feed information regarding his detective over a number of books, in a one-off play it means he is left frustratingly underexplored and Gray O’Brien doesn’t get much meat to chew on. Shaun McKenna’s stage adaptation can’t find much to give Sarah Baxendale’s psychic either, apart from to moon over the detective across a couple of scenes.
So it’s left to the main story to hold our attention and there is enough there to keep it – with double and triple crosses, murder and ice-cold killers. McKenna’s adaptation is functional, Slot A into Slab B writing, and the performances have a tendency to fall into the same generalisation. Lomas suffers gallantly; Makarem is a shifty big shot wannabe in thrall to Tina Hobley’s ice queen vixen, a Lady Macbeth of Brighton with a set of killer pins. It’s left to Michael McKell and Josh Brown to provide some depth as respectively the bride-to-be’s cousin over from Canada and an Asperger’s suffering teen with a love of detective TV, about to be plunged into his own investigation.
Talbot uses his years of experience to keep the action flowing until its final satisfying resolution. It’s as good a way as any to pass a couple of hours and a warning perhaps for any wannabe stag that the best night out might just be a quiet one in your local.