Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Even hardworking police officers deserve a holiday now and then, which is why Inspector Roy Grace (George Rainsford), his wife, Cleo (Giovanna Fletcher), and their baby son, Noah, are visiting a remote château south of Paris. They’ve brought their resourceful American friend, Kaitlynn (Gemma Stryan), with them to act as chief babyminder. But a combination of bad weather conditions and terrible traffic means that they arrive at their destination far later than scheduled. They’ve been expecting to meet up with Kaitlynn’s boyfriend, Jack, but there seems to be no sign of him – and the place they’ve chosen as their stopover really isn’t what they were expecting. For one thing it’s a chambre d’hôte (a kind of glorified Airbnb) and, what’s more, there’s something very odd going on here…
This sixth stage adaptation of Peter James’ successful Inspector Grace crime series began life as a novella, inspired by a holiday from hell that James and his real life wife endured back in the day. It opens like one of those Bloodbath in the House of Death horror spoofs that we’re all so familiar with. It’s a dark and stormy night; there’s a creepy looking interior complete with a suit of armour; there are baleful paintings on every wall and (quelle horreur!) no internet reception! But any laughter generated here is entirely unintentional. The would-be holidaymakers keep stumbling across ominous clues and, as the plot slowly unravels, a tale of deception and cold revenge is gradually revealed.
But there are issues: too much of the dialogue doubles as exposition and too much of that dialogue is delivered in a declamatory style – while the presence of a swaggering bad guy with an old axe to grind (though decently played by Clive Mantle) is a familiar device I’ve seen too often for comfort.
As events steadily mount to a crescendo, complete with artlessly telegraphed ‘twists’ and decidedly unlikely decisions on the part of the villains of the story, I feel my patience wearing perilously thin. Michael Holt’s set design is impressive and deserves a better tale than the one that’s offered here. The ‘upstairs room’, glimpsed through a gauze screen, is a nice touch – though I’m pretty sure it was used in the previous James adaptation, Looking Good Dead.
In the end, I decide that this production is aimed at avid Peter James fans (of whom there are many) but, if I’m entirely honest, it’s really not for me.