Like TV’s George and Mildred, Terry and June, or Frank and Betty; fictional married couples always equal good comedy when bickering in front of an audience.
I am not for one moment suggesting that Peter James’ drama The Perfect Murder, which started its run at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate last night, is like a fluffy ‘70s or ‘80s sitcom. But rather, when that onstage recipe is there, namely a couple in a domestic setting, talking about TV and cooking, we as the audience chuckle along with the action and think we know what to expect.
It is perhaps appropriate that TV’s Eastenders golden couple, Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace, play Victor and Joan Smiley - the production’s central characters. The casting is shrewd because...well, we all know what to expect from Kat and Alfie, don’t we?
To describe the plotline very roughly (without giving away any spoilers), The Perfect Murder is a black comedy which describes just how badly things can go wrong when husbands and wives annoy, take for granted and mentally torture each other to a great enough extent.
I.T. manager Victor enjoys crime dramas, baking and balancing the bills, as well as visiting a local prostitute and plotting against his wife of 20 years. Meanwhile, Joan likes shopping, chatting to her friend Madge and watching American cop shows; while taking an active dislike to her husband’s snoring, humming and the fact that he never notices her anymore.
The dialogue is so well written - cleverly picking on those tiny, niggling annoyances that infiltrate so many marriages - that the laughs are plentiful. But as the action becomes darker and more disturbing, it quickly becomes apparent that, unlike so many of those cosy TV couples, things might not end well for Victor and Joan.
The characterisation within the play is interesting because each of the main personalities are likeable and unpleasant in their own ways, which makes it difficult to side with one character over another.
For me, the star of the show was Jessie Wallace who portrayed the whinging and annoying Joan excellently. For someone mainly known for her work as a soap actress, I was impressed by her comedic skills and timing. She could prompt more laughs with one look than others might manage with a full page of dialogue.
I thoroughly enjoyed the humour in The Perfect Murder, as well as its surprising, twist ending, and I would recommend the show to anyone who feels they might appreciate a bit of a different take on wedded bliss.
The Perfect Murder runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office on 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk.