Peter James brings Dead Simple to the Norwich stage

Being buried alive in a coffin is the subject of Peter James Dead Simple

Being buried alive in a coffin is the subject of Peter James Dead Simple - Credit: Archant

After the success of his debut stage adaptation, bestselling crime writer Peter James has turned another of Roy Grace mysteries into a play. JUDY FOSTER spoke to him about stage whodunits and spending half an hour locked in a coffin.

The cast of Peter James' Dead Simple in rehearsals

The cast of Peter James' Dead Simple in rehearsals - Credit: Archant

After the success of his debut stage adaptation, bestselling crime writer Peter James has turned another of Roy Grace mysteries into a play. JUDY FOSTER spoke to him about stage whodunits and spending half an hour locked in a coffin.

It must be high on most people's list of greatest fears – to be buried alive in a coffin.

It's a subject explored by author Peter James in his chilling crime thriller Dead Simple, which is brought to the stage at Norwich Theatre Royal next week, the second stop on a nationwide tour.

The premiere stage production of Peter's The Perfect Murder, which starred Les Dennis and Claire Goose, won critical and audience acclaim last January, and Dead Simple, which runs from January 20-24, follows in its footsteps with lots of clever plot twists and turns that will keep everyone guessing.

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The storyline follows Michael Harrison who has it all — great career, good friends and a beautiful fiancée. But then a harmless stag night prank goes horribly wrong, and a few hours later the groom-to-be finds himself alone, buried alive and staring death in the face.

As time runs out, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace tries to solve his mysterious disappearance but begins to fear Michael will never be found in time.

'It's so many people's worst nightmare to be buried alive and I'm looking forward to recreating some of that terror in the theatres soon with another incredible cast of actors,' said the best-selling author.

Dead Simple is Peter's most popular novel to-date and the first that featured his now famous detective Roy Grace.

He created the character as a new and very different detective who is open minded to all methods of police work, from high tech to old-fashioned police slog, forensics and pathology analysis.

The fictional detective's own wife has been missing for nine years and in striving to find out what happened to her, he has also become interested in the paranormal, using input from mediums and clairvoyants.

Peter said: 'I'm deeply fascinated by the many facets of police work, and particularly how it is changing with the times, and my research for the Grace novels takes me through almost all of it.'

In the interests of achieving authenticity in his writing, the author undertook some extreme research to bring his plot to life.

To fully imagine the terror Michael Harrison faces, the author climbed into a coffin and had the lid closed on himself for 30 minutes: 'It was one of the scariest moments of my life,' he said.

Peter has sold over 14 million books of his Roy Grace series with Dead Simple itself selling over two million copies around the world. He has been published in 36 languages and has gone straight in at No 1 in the Sunday Times bestseller charts seven times in the last four years with his Roy Grace stories.

His work has won him numerous awards both in the UK and the USA and in 2012 he received the coveted US Barry Award for Best British Crime Thriller.

His 10th Roy Grace novel – Want You Dead – came out in paperback in October while his collection of short stories – A Twist of the Knife – was published in November.

He said: 'From the age of eight, when my parents first took me to the Theatre Royal in Brighton, it had been my dream that one day the curtains would rise in a theatre and a play of my work would be performed.

'That dream came true after a chance meeting with my old friend, producer Joshua Andrews, at a party in November 2012. Josh had seen first-hand the success of the recent Agatha Christie stage productions and he joked that I was the nearest thing to a living modern day Agatha Christie – so he asked if I had any novels that I felt might adapt well to the stage.'

The result was the staging of The Perfect Murder, which ran over 16 weeks from early January 2014, taking in Norwich, and also completed an autumn tour in which actor Gray O'Brien, now in Dead Simple, joined the cast in the role of Don Kirk.

'To my delight it played to packed houses, enthusiastic audiences and a great critical response around the country.'

Peter said the success of The Perfect Murder on stage, together with the news that his books are soon to be adapted for television and the recent successful release of his latest novel, had made 2014 a wonderful year.

Josh Andrews also experienced a good 2014 as the co-producer with the Young Vic of A Streetcar Named Desire starring Gillian Anderson. It was the fastest selling show in the theatre's history and received critical acclaim.

Peter said: 'It is a real thrill now for Josh and I to be launching our second collaboration, an adaptation by the brilliant Shaun McKenna of Dead Simple. It's a tale of treachery and deceit which seems to touch a nerve in everyone who reads it.'

Directed by Olivier Award winner Ian Talbot, the play boasts a cast of some of television soaps' finest actors - from Holby City's Tina Hobley, Hollyoaks and Eastenders Jamie Lomas and Coronation Street's Gray O'Brien, to Emmerdale actors Rik Makarem and Michael McKell.

Tina Hobley has graced TV screens for the last 12 years as Holby ward sister Chrissie Williams, as well as having roles in Coronation Street and Harbour Lights.

Dead Simple will be her first venture back into theatre for around 18 years. After taking part in an event with the Old Vic and Kevin Spacey to create a play in 24 hours, her appetite for live theatre was wetted and she left Holby City to explore its possibilities further.

'I realised I wanted to do more theatre and so challenged myself and made the leap. There were people who thought I was mad but for me it was another step towards trying new things – and doing a play like Dead Simple, and going on tour with it, will be a whole new experience for me,' she says.

Jamie Lomas has appeared for the last year in EastEnders as the murderous Jake Stone and before that was bad boy Warren Fox for five years in Hollyoaks, while Gray O'Brien was the villainous Weatherfield businessman Tony Gordon in Coronation Street.

Rik Makarem is best known for starring for four years in Emmerdale as cast regular Nikhil Sharma, while Michael McKell has also been a regular in Doctors and Emmerdale, and on stage in West End musicals.

n Peter James' Dead Simple, Norwich Theatre Royal, January 20-24, 7.30pm, 2.30pm Jan 22/24, £21.50-£5.50, 01603 630000,

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