Sleuth – Review – York Grand Opera House

sleuth review york grand opera house (1)

By Roger Crow, February 2024

As a lifelong Coronation Street fan, the past few years have been agony. It’s like watching your favourite team losing every week, and yet, despite the own goals and constant thrashing by their opponents, you stick with them, because that’s what it is to be a fan.

What does this have to do with Sleuth you may wonder? Well, stick with me.

When Audrey’s son Stephen, the benign Canadian businessman, popped in now and again decades ago, he was sweetness and light, that moral compass pointing true north. But about five years ago, Corrie morphed from cosy sitcom into a constant assault on the senses. Gaslighting husbands; plastic gangsters, and Stephen morphed too, into a serial killer, because that made him more “interesting”. Sadly for actor Todd Boyce, that meant he was trapped in a seemingly endless storyline of ever-more ridiculous murders. I’d long been keen to see what he was capable of with a decent script, and finally I got my wish.

After what seems like forever, I finally returned to the Grand Opera House York for a long-overdue visit, and Sleuth was well worth the wait.

sleuth review york grand opera house (3)

“Nothing is as it seems”

The first thing you notice is the set, a beautifully crafted, split-level recreation of an author’s stately pile. I have serious sofa envy, and instantly wonder how feasible it is to buy a copy of the luxury Chesterfield on stage. But it’s not the lavish set, with its writing desk, staircase and impressive fireplace that really catches the eye… sorry, for a minute I was channelling Kevin McCloud. This grand design is dominated by a life-sized doll in a sailor suit whose eyes follow you around the theatre.

And then there are the two main protagonists. Thankfully it’s an age since I saw the Michael Caine/Laurence Olivier version, so had forgotten the story, and I swerved Kenneth Branagh’s version with Jude Law and Caine, which may not be a bad thing considering the critical drubbing it received.

Sleuth, the latest version of Anthony Shaffer’s masterpiece, which ran for a dozen years in London and New York, unfolded like a familiar tablecloth. The set-up is simple: Todd plays a famous mystery writer who welcomes a young man called Milo into his lavish home. That leads to a cat-and-mouse game in which a robbery is planned, a rug or two is pulled, and an inspector is called. But this is Sleuth, which is notorious for being a world where nothing is as it seems, and therein lies the problem. All of us amateur detectives in the audience are one step ahead of the game, so when the odd twist does come, chances are we’d pre-empted it. Well, some of us did. It was refreshing to hear a few gasps from the audience at key moments, and not just the odd impressive explosion or gunshot.

sleuth review york grand opera house (2)

“Beautifully staged”

Full marks to Todd Boyce, who seems to be channelling a mix of Olivier, James Mason and Cary Grant, and equally impressive is co-star Neil McDermott, who matches him scene for scene. Alas, like a recent performance of Hamilton in Manchester, I got the urge to yell “Slow down” as dialogue was rushed in places. It’s phenomenal that any actor can deliver that volume of dialogue over the course of the show, but when a thriller is as well crafted as this, I want to savour it rather than spend some of the show processing what was just said.

So, as Milo attempts to win the hand of the writer’s estranged wife by staging a robbery in a clown suit, things start to take malevolent turns. It’s testament to how gripping it is that the first act seems to be over in no time. And ending on such a cliffhanger, I’m amazed that the woman next to me, who spent the whole time eating crisps and checking her phone, didn’t return for the second half. (Amazed, but not upset given the extra legroom and crisp-free soundtrack).

Sleuth is a delicious thriller with a great cast, and whether you guess the twists or not, it’s a beautifully staged slice of entertainment which doesn’t outstay its welcome. I was delighted that Todd Boyce managed to bury the memory of his cartoon Corrie villain, and wished he’d left the show at least a year earlier when there are roles this rich for the picking. And full marks too to Neil McDermott, who does a brilliant job with let’s just say a complex role. To reveal much more would give one of the games away.

It’s well worth a look at one of my favourite theatres, which I really must visit more often rather than settling for the hugely underwhelming Corrie horror show.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do a little detective work of my own and try and track down one of those gorgeous Chesterfields.

‘Sleuth’ is at York Grand Opera House until 2nd March


Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.