Dead Simple – it’s Dead Good!

Dead Simple (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

Reviewing the play Dead Simple is dead simple: it has to be the best play I have ever seen anywhere – and Robert Powell (who played Jesus on TV) wasn’t even in it. If he was he was unrecognisable, which just goes to show how professional he is.

I have always enjoyed the P.D. James novels featuring Adam Dalgleish, so it is a joy to see her son, Peter, continuing her crime writing success with the character of Roy Grace, who used to be in Are You Being Served? on TV.

The play is adapted from the first Roy Grace book written by Peter James, which is also called Dead Simple, in order to avoid confusion. Had it been called Not Dead Enough, for example, that would have been very confusing because that is the third book in the series, and had it been called Dead As a Doornail it would have been more confusing still, as that is a totally different series of books.

The play is on a national tour and is set in Brighton (as is the novel, Dead Simple) so of course the audience recognised every bit of the plot and the set, although Churchill Square wasn’t in it, which is odd, because I only went there the other day to look for a pullover to match my green slacks and found one in the sale.

The drama in this play begins with a practical joke played on someone (played by Jamie Lomas, probably best known for playing a policeman in Brookside on TV) on his stag night, prior to getting married to the glamorous Ashley (played by Tina Hobley, probably best known for playing woman on a train in The Ruth Rendell Mysteries). What poor Jamie Lomas had done to him was really grisly especially when he had his finger cut off, and I was reminded of Van Gogh, although when I got home I remembered that he had cut off his ear, so that wasn’t so bad.

I really liked Rik Makarem, who I’ve loved since his 1980s hit singles, “Twist In My Sobriety” and “Good Tradition.” He is a really good actor too and I became so engrossed in his character I got a real shock when he was killed and I burst into tears. Thankfully my neighbour had some Opal Fruits, or whatever they’re called nowadays, in her bag and I was able to ‘make my mouth water’ rather than my eyes!!!

Michael McKell (who is an actor and musician probably best known for a series of car ads on TV) was really good and I was so convinced by his Canadian accent I got a real shock when he started talking in another accent, proving how professional he is.   

Gray O’Brien is really excellent as Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, who had a goldfish called Marlon, though we didn’t see that in the play. Although Gray is Scottish he delivered a very believable English accent, which made me think he was a pretty Amazing Grace! That was of course a song made famous by Judy Collins, who also had a hit with “Send in the Clowns” from the musical A Little Night Music, and it was also sung by Judi Dench, who I think would be really good as Miss Marple. Marc Small was his sidekick DS Branson and the pair worked so well together I immediately thought of Morecambe and Wise or The Two Ronnies. I’m sure if they had done the classic “four candles” sketch or sung “Bring Me Sunshine” it would have worked really well and would have added some extra humour to what is essentially a very dark play.  

Let’s hope the same team decides to turn other books from the series into plays and in the right order or that would be very confusing, unless you had inadvertently read the books in the wrong order, which I once did with the Narnia books and got very confused.