It is clear to see why Anthony Shaffer's Tony award-winning play has endured, not just on stage, but is perhaps even more well-known for its movie adaptations. As a mystery-thriller, it is concise, compelling and keeps audiences guessing right until the final moments. That's a lot of boxes ticked for what can sometimes be an over-saturated genre.


So much of Sleuth's success depends on the stage presence of the actor playing Andrew Wyke, an author who lives and breathes his own thriller fiction. For a role previously played on screen by Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, this was always going to be a huge task to take on, requiring a genuinely charismatic performance to bring the plot alive and Todd Boyce managed it with aplomb.


Boyce's Wyke is frenetic, considered and deliciously camp in equal measure in this Bill Kenwright production of the now-classic play. Set in his Wiltshire manor house, Wyke enacts ideas from his own novels to play games with his wife's lover Milo Tindle, played by Eastenders' Neil McDermott. As things spiral, Wyke becomes not just engrossed in the scenarios playing out beyond his control but actually revels in it.


Fans of Coronation Street will be well aware of Boyce's exquisite ability to blend farce with fury; he played serial killer Stephen Reid, whose murderous antics saw him both accidentally drug himself with LSD and bump off a foe with that classic murder weapon, the humble hole-punch. Although in Sleuth, Wyke is a clipped British mansion dweller, Boyce brings much of the same energy to the role. It is clear why Kenwright saw him as a good fit for the role.


McDermott holds his own, his character shifting from assured to fearful and back again several times over. The dynamic between the two leading actors may not trouble the likes of Olivier and Caine but, for this touring production, it makes for a thrilling watch. It is possible, however, that Milo could be played with a touch more nuance and a bit less East End bluster.


Sleuth is a roaring success and rides on the captivating dialogue between Boyce and McDermott. It is also a very physical play and toes the line between thriller and mystery as Shaffer would have intended when it first played on Broadway 54 years ago. This tour is approaching its end, so take the opportunity to join in with Wyke's games while you can.

Sleuth plays at Richmond Theatre until 18th May. Tickets: here.


Review: Tom Ambrose.