Behind suburban doors what really goes on: could an outwardly happy couple really plot to murder each other?
That’s the question at the heart of The Perfect Murder, based on crime writer Peter James’ 2010 novella – and the tale of his DC Roy Grace character’s first solo case.
But as with all good detective stories there is a twist: this story is more a black comedy then tense thriller, true to the book’s beginnings as a quick read to help reluctant readers get the habit, and spiced up with its own ending unique to the stage version.
Steven Miller nominally leads the cast as a youthful Grace, bringing a mix of naïvety and ambition to the man, but the real stars are Les Dennis as despondent husband Victor Smiley and Claire Goose as his wife Joan.
Despite a number of straight roles it still takes a moment to forget Dennis’ past as a comedian.
Here his portrayal has Victor as a bit too much of the bluffer for a would-be murderer, but his timing in the comic exchanges is spot on.
Norfolk-raised Goose clearly felt comfortable on her home stage, particularly in the early living room banter with Dennis and in saucier scenes with her lover and potential accomplice Don Kirk (played with complete certainty by Gray O’Brien).
The cast is completed by Simona Armstrong as Victor’s prostitute confidante (and apparent psychic) Kamila.
Michael Holt’s stage is cunning, with cut-away walls symbolically revealing the truth behind the domesticity and the surprisingly effective use of the light of a kitchen appliance.
Director Ian Talbot balances the sinister and the comic, with the audience sufficiently lulled to be tricked by the twists.
Peter James, in Norwich for the performance, was clearly delighted with the transfer to the stage and with good reason.
A perfect murder is for a detective to judge – but it’s a blooming good night out.