Wish You Were Dead

“McKinnis and Mantle give show-stopping performances! ”

Walking into the Lyric theatre at The Lowry this evening instantly transported the audience to a chateau; with its captivating French soundtrack and an eery set of varied levels, complete with an ominous suit of armour. 

Peter James' Wish You Were Dead has been adapted for the stage by Shaun McKenna- but has the transition to stage been smooth or did it leave the audience wishing for more? 

The plot takes us on holiday to rural France with Detective Roy Grace (George Rainford), his pathologist wife Cleo (Katie McGlynn) and babysitter Kaitlynn (played at this performance by understudy Jayda Kariuki). They are greeted at the Château-sur-l'Évêque by Madame L'Eveque (Rebecca McKinnis), and we watch as their relaxing getaway quickly unfurls into a nightmare.

The plot in comparison to seasoned thrillers such as Girl On The Train is clichéd and highly predictable but, with its frequent one liners and striking visuals, allows the story to flow without becoming laborious. The first act is heavily filled with flippant dialogue that, although allowing some room for the plot’s back-story, could have been condensed to allow us to delve further into the characters’ history. The story would work well as a multi episode serial drama but struggles to work as a standalone play. 

Audience members not privy to other books in the Detective Grace series may feel as though they're starting off on a backfoot (this is book 18 of 19 in the series), and a lack of back-story in the script doesn't allow for those less acquainted to fully appreciate the drama created by the plot line. 

The acting styles of the ensemble greatly differ throughout from naturalism to campy and overacted- the latter feeling forced with drifting accents, preventing any chemistry between the leading couple. Whilst this overacting works in some productions, the combination of these styles, with direction from Jonathan O'Boyle, obscures the identity of the piece. 

That being said, Rebecca McKinnis and Clive Mantle shone in their portrayals. Their comic timing, physicality and delivery of the script were excellent and boosted the play in its entirety. It was a pleasure for me to see McKinnis in a different role to which she had played before in Dear Evan Hansen and Everybody's Talking About Jamie. 

It was also a joy to see understudy, Jayda Kariuki, as Kaitlynn. Her persona and American accent added dimension and levels to the swathes of conversation in Act 1.

The set, designed by Michael Holt, was very reminiscent of The Mousetrap but had a few tricks up its sleeve. It was well-designed, allowing the audience to see various areas of the chateau which changed the story’s pace without altering the set. This was aided by Jason Taylor's lighting design which shifted the mood throughout- from the eery chateau to the storms outside, this was complimented by sound design by Max Peppenheim. 

Overall, this play missed the mark as a standout contemporary thriller and would, perhaps, work better in a different medium. It did, however, provide some fun jump scares, laughs and surprises on a Tuesday evening in Salford.

This show was reviewed on the 23rd May 2023.  Wish You Were Dead runs at The Lowry until the 27th May 2023.  Tickets available here: Peter James’ Wish You Were Dead | What's on | The Lowry

Full tour details can be found here: Wish You Were Dead – Peter James

Review written by Lee Gregory

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