Wish You Were Dead

Apr 5 2023 | By More

★★☆☆☆    Lacks Grace

Festival Theatre: Tue 4 – Sat 8 April 2023
Review by Tom Ralphs

Two days after the latest series of Grace left our TV screens, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is back on stage in Edinburgh in Wish You Were Dead, Shaun McKenna’s sixth adaption of a Peter James novel.

This time round, the action switches from the busy streets of Brighton to a chambre d’hote in rural France. It might have been better for Grace and the audience if he’d stayed at home.

Giovanna Fletcher and George Rainsford in Wish You Were Dead.

The book the play is based on was inspired by a holiday James had in the South of France in 2018. Plagued by roadworks and problems with the Sat Nav, he eventually arrived at a chateau that was somewhere between a hotel and a guest house, and which appeared to be staffed by the undead.

The set design by Michael Holt effortlessly captures the detail and essence of the place as described in James’s programme notes. There are dead animal heads coming out of the walls of the main room, a large and ominous painting of the crucifixion in the bedroom and, thrown in for good measure, a full suit of armour that looks like it could easily be concealing a live or dead body on the staircase.

lightning, rain and thunder

The light and sound design by Jason Taylor and Max Pappenheim complete the haunted house feel as lightning, rain and thunder form the backdrop to the action.

So far, so good, but the limitations of the setting as the location for a piece of detective fiction soon become apparent. This is not an And Then There Were None-style tale where guests turn up and gradually get killed off while realising the connection they share. As such, the scope for intrigue is limited.

Clive Mantle and George Rainsford in Wish You Were Dead.

Excluding their two-month old child, the only guests are Grace, (played by George Rainsford) his wife Cleo (Giovanna Fletcher) and their nanny Kaitlynn Carter (Gemma Stroyan). This means that the action and mystery all have to revolve around Grace and the owners of the chateau.

In the first act, the ghostly knocking from upstairs alongside the failed wi-fi, lack of mobile signal and broken down car, combine with questions about the age and identity of their French host Madame L’Eveque (Rebecca McKinnis) to suggest that this could either be a ghost story or a mystery that Grace has stumbled upon.

However, the active question at this stage is why Kaitlynn’s partner and fellow cop Jack has not arrived, which only serves to suggest that L’Eveque knows more about them than might otherwise be the case, narrowing down the scope for speculation about the crimes or motives that may follow.


Director Jonathan O’Boyle and the cast seem to be playing it more for laughs than suspense. Rainsford’s portrayal of Grace lacks any of the gravitas required to earn the given moniker of ‘troubled’ detective, and McKinnis’s L’Eveque comes across as a throwback to the days of Allo, Allo, with a dubious French accent that wouldn’t really fool anyone.

When Madame L’Eveque’s father removes his old-person-in-a-wheelchair disguise at the end of the first act, it’s hard not to get the feeling that this is aiming more for Agatha Christie meets Scooby Doo than making a serious attempt at a suspense filled thriller.

George Rainsford and Giovanna Fletcher in Wish You Were Dead.

The second act merely confirms the destination of travel. Clive Mantle plays baddy Curtis in a Comic Strip-style parody of a Cockney villain, with evil manic laughter thrown in for good measure, while the dialogue veers from exposition to cliché in equal measure.

There are no red herrings or false clues to lead anyone in the wrong direction and the clue to the eventual resolution is telegraphed so clearly that you could see it in fog on a dark evening. There is also no tension, as there is never any real prospect of Grace or his wife ending up dead or seriously injured given that this is a franchise detective story.

The cast, rounded off by Leon Stewart as Glenn Branson, Alex Stedman as Jack Alexander and Callum Sheridan-Lee as Brent, arguably do the best they can with the material and direction they have to work with. But the limitations of the story and the decision to play up every hint of comedy while avoiding any suggestion of darkness within it, ultimately makes this a disappointment that, after a promising start, fails to deliver on any level.

Running time: 2 hours (including one interval)
Festival Theatre 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT.
Tue 4 – Sat 8 April 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees Wed, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

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  1. Mister O says:

    The most two-dimensional, un-enthralling play I have ever seen. Bad casting, poor acting, bad sound quality and the weakest of plots combined to drag this below the level I’d expect of an amateur dramatic society production, or high school play. A waste of money as well as a night of my life I won’t get back. Simply awful.

  2. Sandz says:

    Absolutely rubbish play ..from sound ,casting , acting ,plot.So boring and cringey to watch..the woman playing the wife Cleo was the worst!.Her voice does not travel and we were in row 7 of the stalls..she cannot act !..very embarrassing for them all..for us a total waste of money but more than that a waste of a Saturday night in our lives