PERFECT CRIME – Manor Pavilion Theatre, Sidmouth

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8 July 2024

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2.5      **½

Opening in 1987 at an Off-Broadway Theatre, ‘Perfect Crime’ is still running; a younger equivalent to London’s ‘The Mousetrap’ (now in it’s 70th year!). More astonishing is the fact that (apart from a small handful of performances), the leading role of the psychiatrist, Margaret Thorne Brent, has been played by the same actor, Catherine Russell – though the text has had to change to accommodate the passing of time. The wonder is that it hasn’t been hugely successful in the UK too.

It is always tricky to explain the plot of a thriller such as this, without giving too much away; suffice to say, all is not what it appears and the boundaries between fact and fiction, reality and make believe become somewhat blurred. Throughout the play, Warren Manzi, leads the audience on a merry dance with a hugely complex plot which bends this way and that with vigour. Set in the home of the psychiatrist, a murder takes place, or does it? What does the local policeman know? Were there any witnesses to the murder? What secrets are being hidden? The storyline is so multi-layered that by the interval it is just about impossible to work out where the story is heading – unfortunately by the time the final curtain fell, I was still left wondering. Maybe a sharper pair of ears and a quicker brain will pick up all the necessary twists and turns and be able to decipher Manzi’s over-engineered plotting.

Sometimes, the acting is such that you can almost feel convinced that you understand what is going on; this was the case here. The quartet of actors give excellent performances throughout. In the lead role, Katie Paine is first-rate; strong and commanding with an unpredictable edge. As her husband, Simon Chappell combines the happy-go-lucky Brit with a good slug of the mysterious. Alex Hulme has an Elliott Gould vibe about him; effortlessly providing the romantic interest and the investigative nous. Adam Trembath steals the show as the fey patient Lionel with a penchant for long wigs and long dresses; it is a performance on the edge of sanity and works a treat.

Director Anton Tweedale keeps the action moving along well – even during some of the lengthier speeches – and his use of sound and music throughout provides an excellent backdrop to proceedings, as does Andrew Beckett’s extremely well-appointed set; dressed with a large variety of appropriate props; credit to the work of James Prendergast, whose attention to detail is extraordinary.

I would love to have really got my head around the play, but once lost, finding one’s way out of the maze is all but impossible. An admirable production in many ways, but the raw material of the script is just not as good as it should be and the ending fizzles than bangs.

I don’t use half stars in my reviews – this is an exception, the writing boosted by the acting and the production.

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 Cast

Margaret Thorne Brent – Katie Paine

Inspector James Ascher – Alex Hulme

W. Harrison Brent – Simon Chappell

Lionel McAuley – Adam Trembath

 

Creatives

Writer – Warren Manzi

Director – Anton Tweedale

Design – Andrew Beckett

Lighting & Sound Operation – Mark Rose

Costume Designer – Jan Huckle

Set Builders – Rhys Cannon & James Prendergast

Props Supervisor – James Prendergast

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Artistic Director – Paul Taylor-Mills

Season Associate Producer – Andrew Beckett