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Review: Sleuth (Richmond Theatre)

Review by Rosie Holmes




Sleuth describes itself as one of the greatest ever stage thrillers, and with a Tony Award winning history, a 5-year run in the West End and two film adaptations, its fair to say my expectations were high. Yet, I knew little about the actual storyline, which I suggest is the best way to go into this play, and so I will do my best to conceal the twist and turns of the plot. What I can reveal though, is that Sleuth is a thrilling cat and mouse game that seeks to parody but also celebrate the classic detective genre.

The piece opens on a summer’s evening at Andrew Wyke’s country manor, tucked away in the West of England. Wyke is writing his latest detective novel, engrossed in the world of dastardly crime, when he is interrupted by a guest, the lover of his wife, Marguerite. What ensues is a psychological battle between the venerable Wyke and younger lover, Milo Tindle, that involves an insurance scam, a clown costume, and lots of game play. The lines between fact and fiction begin to blur and the audience are swept up in in the story, trying too to decipher reality from “detective fiction”.


The piece is a two-hander with Neil McDermott playing the role of Milo Tindle and Todd Boyce as Andrew Wyke. Together they have exceptional chemistry, Boyce is audacious and eccentric in his role, while McDermott is charismatic. The comic timing of the actors is a highlight, injecting moments of levity into the tension-filled narrative with skilful precision. Their physicality adds another dimension to their performances, enhancing the unpredictability that permeates the play. Though, on occasion Boyce’s very wordy lines were tricky to decipher, as the pace of the delivery could be a little too fast.

Direction by Rachel Kavanaugh is wonderful, despite being an extremely wordy piece it never becomes static and the performance is filled with physicality. The staging is clever and dynamic, making excellent use of the space to keep the action moving, and ensuring the fun of hidden identity is interspersed comedically throughout. Set design by Julie Godfrey allows for this wonderful direction, as her intricate set almost becomes a third character in the play. Sherecreates a large manor house with wooden panelling, a minstrel’s gallery, and all manner of curiosities that alert us to Wyke’s eccentricities from the moment the curtain rises. In many cases they also act as red herrings, the life size jovial sailor toy being one of them.


Despite its many strengths, the ending of the play does feel slightly anticlimactic, lacking the explosive resolution that one might expect from such a high-stakes thriller. Moreover, while we see the two men become rivals on many levels; as competitors for a woman, intellectual competitors, the introduction of the idea of class is introduced a little weakly. Tindle is a second-generation immigrant and Wyke, a resident of a large country manor, clearly sees himself as superior, we are also introduced to the idea of the ownership of women by men, both of which I think could have been explored more effectively. 

While Sleuth may not quite be the greatest ever stage thriller, it is a thoroughly entertaining dance of deception that is propelled by its wonderful cast, intricate set design and lively direction. Tension and comedy exist together, a balance hard to achieve, and from the moment the curtain rises, audiences are plunged into a world where every syllable matters, and every glance holds hidden meaning. The two-hour show time flew by, making this a show worth seeing and a mystery well worth solving.


Sleuth plays at Richmond Theatre until Saturday 18th May 2024 as part of its UK tour, tickets and more information can be found here - Sleuth Tickets | Richmond Theatre in Greater London | ATG Tickets


Photos by Jack Merriman



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