Victor and Joan Smiley are an unhappily married couple not celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. Bickering endlessly, they each concoct a plot to murder the other, and run off with their respective lovers; a Croatian prostitute in his case and a Cockney rhyming taxi driver in hers.
Based on Peter James' novel, this adaptation by Shaun McKenna uses the stage conventions of farce, to deliver this story of spouse-murder and getting away with it.
Fighting couples are rich dramatic terrain: think Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or The War of the Roses. James' material is just not up to the job. Creating proper dramatic conflict isn't simply a matter of putting bickering people on the stage. There is no underlying psychology that might enrich the scenario.
The play's tortuously long preamble is just becoming unbearable when the action of the plot finally kicks in two-thirds of the way through the First Act. The twisting murder plot has merit, but not enough to carry these unlikeable and shallow characters for over two hours.
Shane Richie is tolerable as Victor, a sort of underpowered Ricky Gervais actalike. Jessie Wallace is a very limited Joan, and even the narrow range required here is beyond her capacity. She resorts to an annoying laugh in the Second Act, which simply grates.
The split-level set by Michael Holt is uninspired and functional. There is a general air of laziness in the direction by Ian Talbot, not covering himself with any glory here. However Simona Armstrong, Stephen Fletcher and Benjamin Wilkin all do good work in the supporting roles.
Peter James has a major following for his crime novels. One discernible value in this vacuous piece is that it presents James' popular Detective Roy Grace as a young man in the present, in a theatrical time-warp. Maybe this, and the fact that the two leads are well known from EastEnders, will draw an audience into this lacklustre production.
It is a resolutely cynical exercise.