29 June to 4 July 2015
Reviewed by Anne Stone
The New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham is a building full of character and atmosphere. The staff are friendly and helpful and the place is clean with lots of toilet facilities. There are several car parks nearby, we chose to park in the Town Hall ‘Cage’ car park just a couple of minutes walk away. It cost just £3.20 for the evening as we arrived after 6pm.
The theatre was buzzing as we took our seats and the audience were gripped from the very start.
I’ve not read Peter James but I knew that the play was based on his book Dead Simple which features a recurring detective Roy Grace.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be buried alive. I guess many of us have thought about it, maybe had a nightmare about it. This is what happens to Michael Harrison (Jamie Lomas) on his stag night. He’s a bit of a joker and has played many pranks on his friends so this is their ultimate revenge. They put him in a coffin in a shallow grave in the woods and plan to return when his ‘punishment’ is up. They leave him with a walkie talkie and he has his mobile phone but no signal. Soon he has no connection at all and is all alone in his shallow grave with no idea what is happening and why his friends have not returned for him.
The first half of the play focuses on the characters and how they react when they find Michael is missing. His fiancée Ashley Harper (Tina Hobley) is distraught but his best friend Mark Warren (Rik Makarem) appears to know where he is but appears unwilling to admit it or help him. We are also introduced to Detective Superintendant Roy Grace (Gray O’Brien) and Detective Sergeant Branson (Marc Small) who are on the missing person case. The superintendent is currently in disgrace after seeking the help of a Psychic Zoe Frame (Sarah Baxendale).
Another character is Davey Wheeler (Josh Brown) who I admit confused me a little. At first I couldn’t make out if he was meant to be really young or older and autistic. I think maybe he was somewhere between the two. He finds the other walkie talkie and becomes the only contact that Michael, locked in his coffin, has.
The first half ends with a twist which had the audience gasping!
The second half was much faster moving with so much going on it was almost difficult to keep up with it all. There were so many twists and turns and a lot of bloodshed too. Some plot twists I’d managed to work out, somewhere a shock. I’m so glad I hadn’t read the book! The ending was quite predictable but still good.
The play didn’t really focus much on the talents of the DS Roy Grace which I felt is a shame because he seems a very likeable character. In fact I am keen to read some more of the books now that I have had my introduction.
The set design, by Michael Taylor, was quite brilliant. The stage was split into three and the lighting skills of Mark Howett made focusing on the area of action easy. I loved the forest area which I actually thought was a film when it first appeared on the top left hand side of the stage. It was also really clever how they showed Michael trapped in his coffin.
Overall I felt it was a really good performance. The pacing felt a little off with the second half moving so fast compared to the first, but then you tend to find that in Murder Mystery type stories anyway. There were so many twists and turns of plot that maybe too much was left to fate, but I guess not everything is planned to perfection, even murder!
I would recommend the play to anyone who likes a good murder mystery, with some very nice looking actors. Be prepared for a few shocks along the way, with a little bit of horror and even a little humour at times.
Tickets cost £12.90 to £38.90 (plus £4 transaction fee).
Peter James’ Dead Simple is at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until 4 July 2015. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0844 871 3011.
New Alexandra Theatre, Suffolk Queensway, Birmingham, West Midlands, B5 4DS