Peter James’ ‘Wish You Were Dead’ – Orchard Theatre, Dartford. 30.05.2023

Having seen Looking Good Dead at the Orchard last year, I was looking forward to my second Peter James thriller. Something a little different to the stellar musicals that they have hosted in Dartford recently. But for me, not having read any Peter James, there was an air of mystery around the storyline.

The bio didn’t give too many clues:

When Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and Cleo Morey take their first holiday together, Cleo hopes that she will finally get Grace to herself for a few days and away from his crime solving exploits. But their dream escape turns out to be the holiday from hell.

Adapted exclusively for the stage, Wish You Were Dead is the latest thrilling instalment of the Grace Series – the most successful modern day crime stage franchise, since Agatha Christie.

Author Peter James and actor George Rainsford at the Theatre Royal Brighton ahead of the production of “Wish you were dead” in 2023. George Rainsford place the role of Roy Grace in the show. Photography by DFphotography / Danny Fitzpatrick Copyright

I decided not to investigate further but allow myself to enjoy it fully for the first time on stage. And what an enjoyable night it was. Based on the novel by Peter James, Shaun McKenna has adapted it brilliantly for the stage, with superb direction from Jonathan O’Boyle.

This fast-paced, action-packed thriller grabs your attention and holds it. Wish You Were Dead is certainly gripping throughout, which makes it a really easy watch. I was lucky to be attending the 100th performance of the show, and by now it’s a pretty slick operation. It was nice to see the theatre packed out for the occasion.

The cast is small but dynamic – with just nine roles to fill – and they interact seamlessly with each other. George Rainsford takes the leading role as Roy Grace, the quick-thinking detective with a suspicious mind, who has a hard time switching off from work, until his work catches up with him. Katie McGlynn plays his wife Cleo. Both are strong characters, not easily cowed, and certainly in McGlynn’s case wildly different from her soaps days as Sinead Tinker in Coronation Street. They work well together, exemplifying the career couple who just want some time off together, but get stuck in a nightmare situation where they need to protect their family and friends.

The first half of the play really builds up the tension. The production team deserves a credit for the creepy staging of the Château-sur-L’Évêque, which is more like a house of horrors than a luxury holiday retreat. Gemma Stroyan as Kaitlynn Carter makes the audience jump with fright on multiple occasions as she explores the eery house.

Katie McGlynn as Cleo and Gemma Stroyan as Kaitlynn

Act One leaves you with many questions. Where is Jack (Kaitlynn’s fiancé)? Who are the owners of this strange house? What is that banging noise?  Something isn’t right, but what is it? You go into the interval with a climatic moment – a big reveal – but it isn’t quite clear who has been revealed. You have to wait impatiently for Act Two to start.

In the second half Clive Mantle, who plays our villain Curtis, really steals the show. He brings a lot of comedy to the stage which was absent from the tension-building first half, aside from in Rebecca McKinnis’ faux French accent as Madame L’Eveque. The story unravels; all the mysteries of the first part are solved. Now we just have one question – will the Graces make it out of here alive?

The Graces in trouble

Wish You Were Dead is a compelling, quick-moving play which shows you the length families will go to for each other. Overall, it was thoroughly entertaining, and perfect for anyone who loves a crime thriller. The only, tiny criticism I could make was one of personal opinion; the last line was a little too cheesy for me!

Wish You Were Dead is playing at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford until Saturday 3 June; you can get your tickets here.

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