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Simply Murder review at Theatre Royal Wakefield – ‘a cleverly constructed thriller’

Lara Lemon in Strictly Murder at the Theatre Royal Wakefield. Photo: Carla Joy Evans Lara Lemon in Strictly Murder at the Theatre Royal Wakefield. Photo: Carla Joy Evans
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Rat poison in the wine? Blood on the rug? Bodies in the cesspit? Nazi assassins on the loose? Psychopath husband bumps off pregnant girlfriend?

Well, the late Brian Clemens, prolific writer of numerous B movie scripts and umpteen film and television screenplays including classics such as The Avengers and The Professionals, knew how to plan a perfect murder on stage as well.

There’s evidence of a killer instinct for tricking an audience at work in this corkscrew yarn set in a Provence farmhouse in 1939 where an English couple’s secluded bolthole turns into a menacing death trap.

The spectre of Hitler on the rise and the shadow of war looming over Europe gives the conventional thriller format an additional layer of impending evil.

With Edward Patrick White’s moody soundtrack underscoring the action, on a set that serves its purpose but looks under-lit at times, Samuel Clemens’ touring production builds up roller-coaster tension from the start, laying numerous red herring trails along the way before reaching the inevitable last-minute revelatory scene that, true to the genre, explains everything that’s gone before.

But having played intrigue and deception dead straight throughout, by then even Brian Capron’s pretend detective, Gary Turner’s prime suspect, Lara Lemon as his partner in peril, Corrinne Wicks as a dubious Scotland Yard cop with an even more dubious Veronica Lake hair-do, and Andrew Fettes as a toad-eating yokel, can’t disguise the fact that when gentle push comes to murderous shove, in reality this craftily constructed crime caper is strictly hokum.

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Cleverly constructed thriller directed with a strong feeling for suspense