Adapted by Shaun McKenna and directed by Jonathan O’Boyle from Peter James’ crime novel, ‘Wish You Were Dead’ follows Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (George Rainsford) and his wife Cleo Morey (Katie McGlynn) on an ill-fated holiday to France.
While the impressive set design by Michael Holt brings a fresh perspective to the classic murder mystery staging, it fails to compensate for the play’s numerous shortcomings. Holt’s set design is commendable, injecting life into the production and facilitating smooth transitions between scenes, especially in the play’s first half. Paired with Jason Taylor’s lighting design, the two creatives manage to unveil hidden secrets, culminating in a standout reveal towards the end of act one. However, Max Pappenheim’s sound design falls short of delivering the same necessary intensity for pivotal plot points, leaving a sense of unfulfilled potential.
One of the play’s notable drawbacks lies in its reliance on caricatures rather than well-rounded characters. The panto-like villain, who strangely transforms into comedic relief, detracts from the intended suspense. Rebecca McKinnis however is able to standsout as Madame L’Évêque, the stereotypical French maid, skillfully navigating an absurd character with conviction and dynamism. Similarly, Gemma Stroyan’s portrayal of the American nanny, Kaitlynn, remains grounded and believable throughout the piece.
Unfortunately, the remaining characters suffer from being one-dimensional due to limitations imposed upon them by the source material. The actors struggle to fully bring their roles to life, leaving the audience disconnected and disinterested. The play flirts with tropes and the potential for campy humor but never fully commits, resulting in a disjointed experience. While it acknowledges the absurdity and likeness to such stories, it fails to capitalize on this potential.
The play’s uneven tone further compounds its problems. It lacks a clear identity, wavering between thriller, murder mystery, drama, and comedy without settling on one. As a result, the audience is left unsure of what to expect or how to emotionally engage with the story. Additionally, the small cast hampers the effectiveness any potential for a traditional ‘whodunnit’ mystery, leaving audiences unsatisfied.
‘Wish You Were Dead’ disappoints with its portrayal of a detective who does little detecting. The story unfolds without much urgency, and the characters in danger display minimal haste throughout. The weak attempts at comedy strip away any semblance of a thrilling atmosphere, eroding the stakes and leaving the audience underwhelmed. Furthermore, the presence of red herrings only serves to create glaring plot holes, adding confusion rather than intrigue. The unusual reveal in the latter part of the play lacks coherence, leaving the audience puzzled and detached from the narrative.
Lastly, the comedic shift in the second act erodes any tension that may have been generated in the first act, further diminishing the overall impact of the production. Ultimately this play fails to live up to its potential as a compelling thriller and leaves audiences wanting more.
Wish You Were Dead plays at the Sheffield Lyceum until Saturday 1st July 2023. Tickets available from Sheffield Theatres. The show will then continue to tour.