Theatre and crime detectives are not an obvious couple. However, director Ian Talbot provided an entertaining night with his production of the Shaun McKenna adaptation of Peter James’ critically acclaimed novel.
The play opened with the familiar – perhaps a little clichéd – characters of Michael (Jamie Lomas) and his business partner, Mark (Rik Makarem). Michael, the alpha-male, is the bully big brother to Mark who is evidently the subordinate partner. They boast and joke about their large profit: five million and twenty-three pence. Apparently the twenty-three pence is important: indeed, the ‘romantic’ part. We are encouraged to dislike Michael and the production is certainly effective in doing so: he becomes that resented ‘spiv’ character and we are supportive in Mark’s stag-do revenge – if perhaps not quite to the same extent. Michael is preparing for his stag-do before his marriage to Ashley (Tina Hobley), whose Uncle Bobo is visiting Canada. So far, so good.
However, Mark’s stag-do prank appears to stray from the plan, leaving Michael buried alive with just a small air tube for his oxygen supply. Lomas’ acting was convincing and Howett’s and Hodgson’s marriage of lighting and sound design persuasively incorporated the audience into the horror felt by such a claustrophobic trauma. The set design also complimented the action; despite appearing asymmetrically clumsy in the first scenes, the contrast of the cold, dismal coffin to Michael’s previous sanctuary of his flat worked well.
What let the play down was the sometimes poor acting. Although the script itself was admirable enough, the delivery of the lines at times lacked in credibility, hindering the sincerity of the storyline – so essential to both Talbot’s and James’ intentions in leading audiences to ever-changing conclusions. Of course, this is a play in which characters are acting themselves, so maybe this was some complex double bluff.
Theatregoers unfamiliar with James’ novel perhaps benefited most from this experience. Indeed, it was the unexpected plot twists that made this play. The audience’s enjoyment was apparent with consistent gasps, laughs and audible realisations as plot twists were revealed. It was the community aspect that made this play delightfully unique. The ending, however, would have benefited from the exclusion of so many plot twists as it made the play feel a little lop-sided, making the storyline of the last scenes close to bordering the ridiculous.
Although lacking in certain areas, this was an entertaining production. The audience’s enjoyment was evident through their eruption into great chatter at both the interval and ending. Dead Simple was a neat and easy watch – a classic ‘whodunnit’ that made for an evening of light entertainment.