By Brian Clemens
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
One of the joys of watching the Classic Thriller Season each summer is seeing the versatility of actors who take a particular role one week and then appear or sound totally different a few days later.
That’s particularly true of Murderous Liaisons, the third of the four plays in the 2023 season. Lara Lemon, Pavan Maru and Jeremy Lloyd Thomas all took to the stage in the first two offerings in the season and Murderous Liaisons allows them to display their flexibility and resourcefulness.
Murderous Liaisons was written by Brian Clemens, fittingly given the nickname “the thrillionaire”. He wrote more than 100 television scripts, horror movies and plays, most notably the 1960s television spy series Danger Man and The Avengers and followed it in the following decade with The Persuaders and The Protectors.He isn’t as well known for his stage work although his plays are said to contain thrilling plot twists which are exhilarating rather than terrifying. Murderous Liaisons clearly falls into that category.
Set in the 1980s in an isolated Spanish villa not far from Marbella, Murderous Liaisons features Suzy, a glamorous woman who’s had enough of her bullying husband Alex especially as he turns violent when he’s had a drink. She meets professional safe-cracker Larry and makes him a proposition: Larry should kill Alex, with the pair of them escaping to Brazil with cash and diamonds from one of Alex’s dodgy deals.
What Suzy doesn’t know is that Alex is employing Larry to murder his cheating wife so that he can claim her life insurance. Deceit, duplicity and double-crossing abound as the plot sprints to a conclusion that few people will predict.
Lara Lemon is confident, determined and alluring as Suzy but also displaying the vulnerability expected of a woman suffering physical abuse by her husband. It’s a commendable performance, a complete contrast from her roles as the excitement-seeking Cecily in Agatha Christie and Frank Vosper’s Love From a Stranger and coquettish Ruby in John Goodrum’s Father Brown – A Crime at Christmas.
Jeremy Lloyd Thomas, a Thriller Season stalwart, revels as Alex. He perfectly portrays a character with so many facets: the cruel, unpredictable husband, the vexed plotter who doesn’t plan his murderous scheme down to the finest detail and the frightened victim when his plans go awry. Again, so different from the level-headed Dr Gribble in Love From a Stranger and irascible Sir Leopold Fischer in the Father Brown.
Pavan Maru is appearing in his first Classic Thriller season. He had little chance to make a lasting impression in the Agatha Christie as staid, unadventurous Nigel Lawrence while his role in Father Brown was a supporting one as an acrobat and comic actor.
But in Murderous Liaisons he shines as Larry, the flirtatious, extrovert killer who’s always one step ahead of the police – and those who want to hire him. Maru thrives in the role and successfully rises to the challenge of producing a performance which should earn him an invitation to future thriller seasons.
Karen Henson’s direction ensures that the play rattles on at an almost dizzying pace. Murderous Liaisons went down a bomb on the night I saw it – the most exciting and satisfying of the plays so far which deserves the epithet classic.
* This review originally appeared on the British Theatre Guide website