*Warning – this post contains spoilers and an unusually high concentration of fangirling*
First and foremost – I did not want to go to see this play. My Mum is a huge Peter James fan and it just so happened that a stage adaptation of one of his books would be coming to Manchester starting on the 15th of April – my Mum’s birthday. She decided that this was what she wanted to do for her birthday and so two tickets were booked. Lucky me. I did perk up slightly when I saw the cast included Steven Miller who played Lenny in Casualty, a programme I’ve watched religiously since I was about three, and Gray O’Brien who played the incredibly scary Tony Gordon in Coronation Street.
Before the show we decided to have a nice meal at a Pizza Express around the corner from the theatre. The meal itself was lovely; it was the fellow customers were the problem. I have a lot of tattoos on my arms and I was wearing a sleeveless top – cue lots of looks ranging from curiousity to downright disdain. The man on the table next to me said that I was “more Pizza Hut than Pizza Express.” Luckily my Mum had gone to the loo at that point and didn’t hear him, otherwise he would have been wearing his meal.
After the meal we headed over to the theatre, and realised it was press night. After buying a programme we settled down in our seats. I was definitely in the minority in this audience, which has happened before, but this particular audience was very hostile and I was getting very sick of being glared at. I was looking around the theatre to try and spot anyone under 50, when Freddie Flintoff walked past. It was a very surreal moment. Now I was a tattooed teenage delinquent who was also bright pink and fangirling her arse off – not at all suitable for a play as serious as this. The man next to my Mum actually huffed at me. I would have said something but he took up half of Mum’s seat as well as his own and I didn’t really want to take him on.
As the play started I was sceptical – one of the first characters introduced was a psychic prostitute called Kamila, played by Simona Armstrong. Detective Constable Roy Grace, played by Steven Miller, went to her for advice about a missing boy. He handed her the boy’s phone and she was able to tell where the boy’s body was and what tool had been used to kill him. Kamila was also visited by Victor Smiley (Les Dennis) three times a week every week, and he told her of his plan to kill his wife with cyanide, cash in her life insurance policy and live happily ever after. He said it was so planned out it couldn’t possibly fail – he kept the cyanide in the shed and he was going to mix it with some paint then paint the spare room where his wife sleeps because of his snoring. She would be overcome by the fumes and die, and the death would be put down to a mistake in the manufacturing of the paint. Simple. Even if that fails he has some cyanide in an almond essence bottle, and is going to bake some into some of his wife’s favourite snacks. He then declares his love for Kamila and asks her to come away with him after the murder, and she agrees.
Victor’s wife Joan (Claire Goose) is also having an affair, with a man named Don Kirk, played by the ridiculously gorgeous Grey O’Brien. In his first scene he is in the bedroom in some tiny underpants and nothing else. Wow, just wow. Joan and Don then talk about their plan to empty Victor’s bank account and run off together. As he is leaving Joan and Victor’s house Victor comes home early and Don sneaks out of the back door. Victor and Joan then have an argument about Victor constantly watching murder mystery programmes, although Joan does quite like “Benedict Cucumberpatch” which tickled me. She also hates the way he smokes cigars in the house, and sometimes hums the “Dambusters” theme tune without realising.
Later in the week Victor is made redundant and is only being paid 27 weeks’ worth of wages. Joan decides to cook him a sugar-free meal to comfort him (Victor has type 1 Diabetes so has to control his sugar levels). After Victor’s second helping of chocolate pudding Joan reminds him to take his insulin, which he does and then sinks onto the couch. As he does he begins to feel a little strange, and then collapses onto the floor. It turns out that Joan had loaded the meal with sugar and replaced his insulin with sugar water to send him into a hyperglycaemic coma. She and Don would then move him into bed, she would sleep in the spare room and then find her husband dead in the morning.
This is where the play really began to get going. As Don and Joan went to move Victor’s body he woke up and went for Joan, who hit him on the back of the head with a hammer. Victor puts his hand up to feel the back of his head and his hand comes away absolutely covered in blood, which he wipes over his face in shock before collapsing on the couch. It was so well done and I just did not see it coming – my jaw hit the floor when I saw the blood!
While Joan is holding the hammer in shock Don is flapping his arms repeating “bloody hell. Bloody hell!” which was absolutely hilarious, despite the macabre circumstances. They then proceed to wrap Victor’s body in bin bags, seal him up with masking tape and put him in the freezer. That night while Joan is in the house alone she thinks she can smell cigar smoke but puts it down to Don smoking in the house.
Kamila rings DC Grace when she senses something is wrong with Victor. She picks up a necklace he gave her and tells the detective that Victor is in a cold, dark space and, although DC Grace is sceptical at first, he agrees to pay Joan a visit. In the meantime Joan has had Victor declared missing to try and cover her back. When DC Grace is gone, Don decides to bury Victor under the patio. What happens next was my favourite part of the entire play.
When Joan enters her living room she can hear the music again, and can smell cigar smoke. Suddenly a piercing scream filled the theatre, which made me jump out of my skin and utter something very un-ladylike. Then the lights began to flicker and Joan runs upstairs to the bedroom, barricading the door shut. The door handle begins to rattle and the music gets louder, until the door swings open to reveal Victor, smoking a cigar with his head covered in blood, staring blankly at her. It is the scariest thing I have ever seen live in a theatre – I was terrified!
When DC Grace visits Kamila again she tells him that somebody has cut off Victor’s head and hands and buried the body under the garden. DC Grace arrests Joan and Victor’s body is found, just where Kamila said it would be, minus his head and his hands. Case closed. Joan tells the police that Don killed Victor and forced her to go along with it, and is released on bail. When she returns home she finds some almond macaroons that Victor had made in the kitchen, pours herself a glass of wine and settles down to watch TV. All of a sudden, Victor appears behind her wearing leather gloves and wielding a crowbar. It turns out he wasn’t dead after all – when Joan and Don put him in the freezer the cold woke him up and he was able to work himself free and escape. He then found the body of a tramp in their shed – the tramp had opened all of the chemical bottles looking for a quick high, hadn’t put the lid back on the cyanide and suffocated. Victor cut off his head and his hands and put him in the freezer, and then Don buried the tramp under the patio thinking it was Victor, leaving Victor free to “haunt” Joan.
Victor makes Joan write a confession, stating that it was her who killed Victor and Don had nothing to do with it. All the time Victor keeps repeating “have another macaroon Joan.” Joan starts to choke and Victor says “Ah yes, you like almonds don’t you Joan. Do you know what else tastes like almonds?” “Cyanide” Joan gasps in horror before collapsing to the ground clutching her throat. Victor puts the TV on to mask the sound of Joan dying and then, when she is dead, puts the confession on the table with the bottle of almond essence that contained the cyanide, to make it look like Joan had committed suicide. There is a knock at the door and in walks Kamila. She had been feeding DC Grace false information about Victor’s murder, and the two of them were going to disappear, using Victor’s hefty redundancy payout to start a new life together.
All throughout this last scene, Les Dennis was incredible. I was on the second row in the stalls and I actually found myself cowering away from him! Claire Goose was brilliant too, her acting was just flawless and her death was convincing without being too over-dramatic. It wasn’t until the curtain call that I realised that there were only five cast members – an entire play with only five people!
As I mentioned before it was press night, and this is where the fangirling comes into play. In the interval I got up to go to the loo, and found myself walking directly behind Freddie Flintoff. He was heading to the bar at the back of the theatre that was for press only, which just so happened to be right next to the ladies toilets. Just as he was going in to the bar we managed to grab him and ask for a picture – he is so tall! He practically had to bend double just to reach my height.
On the way back from the toilets I was still in total disbelief when I spotted Ian Puleston-Davies. That was too much; I went into full fangirl mode. I was bright pink and shaking like a leaf as I went up to talk to him! Ian Puleston-Davies currently plays Owen Armstrong in Coronation Street, but I’ve been a huge fan of his since he was in Ghost Boat with David Jason in 2006. He is an absolutely phenomenal actor, and I had said to my Mum literally the night before whilst watching Corrie that I would love to meet him one day, and then there he was! It was totally insane. He was so lovely to me, and absolutely made my night when he said “oh I love your tattoo. Tattoos! Wow!” After all the stick I had been getting that night it was so amazing to have someone I admire that much react positively to my tattoos. I made a point of telling him that I loved him in Ghost Boat, despite the fact that he shot David Jason (I will never forgive him for that) and he said “oh I know, the nation wept.” Well I certainly did!
After the show we were walking towards the exit when my Mum nudged me and said “look behind you.” It was only bloody David Neilson who plays Roy Cropper in Coronation Street. I was in total fangirl overload! We waited at the top of the stairs and I asked him for a picture, and while I was on my phone bringing up the camera he noticed my phone wallpaper and said “aww are those your cats?” To which I replied “yes, they’re my babies.” Smooth. He also said he liked my tattoos (woo!) and I told him how much I loved watching him in Corrie.
When I got to the stage door I was already a total mess, so it’s a miracle I managed to talk to any of the cast! Les Dennis, Gray O’Brien, Steven Miller and Claire Goose all signed my programme for me and were all so lovely to the people at the stage door. As we headed back to the tram I had the biggest grin on my face – what a night!
**additional note** I sent this blog to the play’s author Peter James and he was lovely enough to reply.