Shaun McKenna’s adaptation of Peter James’ The Perfect Murder marries the commercial clout of a bestselling author to two of TV’S best-known names, but while there is an undeniable frisson watching Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace revive their EastEnders dynamic, it’s not enough to carry the play.
Their performances are engaging, and though Wallace occasionally resorts to mugging and is a little over-mannered, the chemistry between the leads is undeniable – few people can row as well as these two. But the cliché-packed, clunky script makes the whole thing feel more 1970s sitcom than Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Richie is almost unrecognisable as the greying, cardigan-clad Victor, embittered, hen-pecked husband to Wallace’s shrewish Joan. She distracts herself with shopping and shagging a mockney cabbie, while Victor finds solace with Kamila, a Comedy East European Prostitute. Because, yes, in 2016 someone really thought these were tropes we needed to see again on stage. Simona Armstrong tries to bring some depth to her woefully written role; Stephen Fletcher’s Don at least provides plenty of laughs, though his incomprehensible rhyming slang soon grates. Benjamin Wilkins’ policeman Roy Grace channels a young Endeavour Morse, but has very little to do.
Director Ian Talbot keeps it pacey, and there are some undeniably sharp lines and funny moments, as well as some surprisingly effective shocks; a scene where body disposal is hampered by the inferior quality of value-range bin bags contains some hilarious physical comedy. But ultimately the play squanders decent jokes and cast charisma on flimsily written characters.