Dead Simple, I Hate Hamlet

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on DEAD SIMPLE at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, and I HATE HAMLET at Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 7.2.15. ________________________________________________________

Dead Simple   3 stars ***
I Hate Hamlet   2 stars **

IT’S DAFT, it’s dramatic to a fault, and towards the end its plot almost collapses under the weight of its own multiple twists; but all the same, on a February night, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned edge-of-the-seat thriller to get the heart pumping with excitement.

Peter James’s Dead Simple – a best-selling novel produced for the stage by James himself, and adapted by Shaun McKenna – begins with a terrific, spine-chilling set-up, in the shape of the ultimate stag-night joke gone wrong.  Michael Harrison is a smart and wealthy young property developer, about to tie the knot with his gorgeous secretary Ashley, played by the lovely Tina Hobley of Holby City.  His stag night ends in a nightmare, though, when his friends bury him six feet deep in a coffin in Ashdown Forest, only to die in a car crash before they can return to release him.

Cue an hour or two of nail-biting tension for the audience, as Michael desperately tries to contact his fiancée, and his best friend and business partner, Gary.  And cue also a series of increasingly tortuous twists, as one villain after another is unmasked by James’s favourite cop, Detective Superintendent Grace.  The acting style offers classic slices of British thriller ham, and the story eventually loses credibility.  Yet Michael Taylor’s big, multi-layered set allows the story  to swing along in fine televisual style; and the cast succeed in keeping their tongues out of their cheeks, just long enough to reach a rousing final curtain.

Paul Rudnick’s 1991 comedy I Hate Hamlet, by contrast –  at Assembly Roxy until Saturday, in a first production by young Edinburgh company Beam Theatre – is not so much an edge-of-seat as a teeth-on-edge experience, one of those infuriating plays-about-theatre that seems mainly designed to elicit guffaws of knowing laughter from an in-house audience of fellow thespians.  Adam Daniels plays a successful young television actor who moves from LA to a New York apartment once inhabited by John Barrymore, and finds himself haunted by the great man’s ghost as he makes his first attempt at Hamlet; the plot is as sentimental as it is self-absorbed, the acting variable.  It’s good, though, to see a young Edinburgh company launching themselves in such confident style; even if they seem, for the moment, to have sailed straight into the backwater of tedious theatrical introspection, from which all artists should seek to escape, as quickly as possible.

ENDS ENDS
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