Review - Refreshing modern thriller kicks off Sidmouth Summer Play Festival

Dafydd Gwyn Jones Howells as Victor Smiley in 'The Perfect Murder'

Dafydd Gwyn Jones Howells as Victor Smiley in 'The Perfect Murder' - Credit: Claire Evans

With the curse of Covid-19 less of a threat than it has been over the last two years, theatre is still building itself up again and it is wonderful to report that the Summer Play Festival is back at Sidmouth for its first full 12-week season since 2019.

This theatrical phenomenon kicks off with the thriller ‘The Perfect Murder’ by Peter James and Shaun McKenna.

The stage thriller was very much a staple during the middle decades of the 20th Century, many of which are regularly revived today – people love them. It is good to have the chance to come more up to date with one from this century and based on a novella by one of the most successful living crime writers in this country.

Victor and Joan Smiley’s wedding is on the rocks – obsessed with traditional detective stories, Victor decides he must kill off his wife, cash in life insurance policies and live happily ever after with his new love, Kamila, a prostitute. All very simple, but, of course, these things never are.

With a plot which combines the police procedural, horror, psychological thriller and the spirit world, the audience is given plenty to think about as the story unfolds.

Amidst this mix of genres are also plenty of laughs; the dialogue is pitted with pithy and bitchy repartee and the many modern day cultural references draw the viewer into the action quickly and easily.

Andrew Beckett has created an effective multi-room set which is used to the full; atmospheric lighting and the use of TV detective show themes add to the canvas on which the action takes place.

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Dafydd Gwyn Howells and Bridget Lambert make a very believable couple who can barely stand the sight of each other; they trade insults with aplomb and when the tension ramps up they certainly get the audience uncomfortable! Heather Wilkins is excellent as the sex worker who is able to offer helpful insights to the police.

Alec Fellows-Bennett has great fun as Don, Joan’s lover, who does a good line in rhyming slang – and manages to draw plenty of laughs from his character. Good work too from Owen Landon as DC Roy Grace – a recurring characters in Peter James’ writing

Anton Tweedale directs with an eye on creating supreme moments of tension which are enormously successful and although the play is just a little too long, in the main, the action moves along pretty swiftly.

A detailed analysis of the plot may find a number of perforations in the storytelling, but what plot is ever completely watertight? Suspend that disbelief!

This is a refreshing modern thriller which kicks off the Sidmouth Summer Play Festival with laughs and thrills – an excellent choice which audiences will love and should flock to.