The Perfect Murder, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until Saturday, February 8.

Who’d have thought that murder could be such good fun? The Perfect Murder is indeed the perfect entertainment; not remotely high-brow, but devilishly clever and, above all, terrific fun, that little word that all too often gets left behind on stage.

The play offers a stage adaptation of Peter James’ novella, with the added interest that to expand it for the stage, the case has now become the first major investigation for detective Roy Grace, the star of James’ succession of hugely-popular Brighton-based novels.

The novella’s starting point was a conversation James had with a senior policeman in which he asked whether there was such a thing as the perfect murder. “Definitely,” the policeman replied. “It’s the one that we don’t hear about.”

For Victor Smiley and his wife Joan, the perfect murder becomes the perfect obsession, their intended victim each other. After years of failing marriage, they can’t stand each other.

Victor is already dreaming of a new life with a hooker he assiduously visits; Joan isn’t so very far away from being pushed into the arms of someone else. Both wants the other out the way.

Les Dennis, who’s been clocking up a fabulous range of varied roles just recently, is terrific as Victor, grouchy, dissatisfied, deliberately and/or carelessly annoying, a man with murder on his mind.

And Claire Goose is every bit as impressive in the rather more interesting role of Joan, conveying beautifully at first that one small kindness from Victor might yet save everything – a small kindness she is eventually forced to realise just isn’t ever going to come.

Maybe the play is just a touch slow to get going, but once it’s in its stride, there is something wickedly engaging about the humour. Trussing up a body and dumping it in a freezer really oughtn’t to be this funny; but then it all turns to nightmare as the dead, it seems, aren’t terribly keen to stay that way.

Gray O’Brien, Steven Miller and Simona Armstrong are excellent in support as the whole thing twists and turns until the only thing you can say for certain is that it ain’t over until it’s over (and probably isn’t even then).

On the most miserable of nights outside, there is huge fun – that’s the only word for it – to be had at the Mayflower this week.

Phil Hewitt