In a macabre twist on the seaside postcard cliché, Wish You Were Dead describes the holiday from Hell.
The play has been adapted by Shaun McKenna from the whodunit written by Peter James –a past-master at the cliff-edge thriller – which always turns out all right at the end. Until then, he likes to keep his readers guessing.
This story was inspired, says James by a real stay in a creepy chambre d’hote in France. James and his wife Lara arrived at an ancient, foreboding old chateaux, with eccentric owners.
They were apparently the only guests. “We lugged our bags into a grand hall, there were creaky floors and the feeling that nothing had been painted or dusted for several centuries.” In the play, echoing that experience, the electricity flickers on and off.
There is no Wi-Fi, no mobile phone signal or telephone landline. The stuffed heads of dead animals stare glassily down from the walls. “It looked better in the dark,” says James’s hero, Detective Roy Grace, played by a slick George Rainsford.
When Grace and his wife Chloe, try to leave, they find their car battery is flat. They are stuck, as Peter James and his wife found themselves, in a room with an ancient four-poster bed and a seven-foot-tall image of Jesus on the cross looming over them.
On a treacherous and stormy night, the humourless French chatelaine (played by Rebecca McKinnis in a stand out performance) can only keep reminding them, when they say they are hungry, that they have arrived late.
The holiday for the Graces, their baby and their nanny turns out to be nothing like the idyl the website promised. These are ghostly surroundings but, just before the end of the first half, we find that it isn’t the dead they need to be afraid of – it is the living.
Their hosts are not what they seem and they are anything but hospitable.
The play is tightly directed by Jonathan O’Boyle with a chilling set by Michael Holt – you really wouldn’t want to stay there. Good work from Gemma Stroyan as the American babysitter Kaitlyn Carter, Clive Mantle and Callum Sheridan-Lee as father and son Curtis and Brent and Leon Stewart as police officer Glenn Branson.
The plot is sign-posted as it unfolds and it’s fun finding the clues.
Not just whodunit but whydunit. It’s a diverting night out.
Wish You Were Dead is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, March 11.
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