REVIEW: Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, playing mind games until Saturday ****

Neil McDermott’s Milo Tindle, left, and Todd Boyce’s Andrew Wyke in Anthony Shaffer’s thriller Sleuth, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Jack Merriman

AMID the multitude of musicals, concerts and comedians, the arrival of a ‘straight play’ is always welcome at the Grand Opera House, especially when it is such a gem.

Hidden gem, hopefully not, although Monday’s audience was not of the full variety, and word of mouth as much this review will be needed to spread the word.

Sleuth, Anthony Shaffer’s 1970 “thriller about thrillers”, received the Tony Award for Best Play, its Broadway stars, Anthony Quayle and Keith Baxter, picking up the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.

The darkly psychological play was adapted for feature films in 1972 and 2007, the first starring Michael Caine as hairdresser Milo Tindle opposite Laurence Olivier’s detective novelist Andrew Wyke. Caine would then take on the older role in 2007, joined by Jude Law’s Tindle.

Star quality, in other words. Make that soap star quality in the case of the 2024 touring production under the Bill Kenwright umbrella. Todd Boyce, formerly “notorious” Coronation Street baddie Stephen Reid, plays Wyke opposite Neil McDermott, once EastEnders’ Ryan Molloy, as Tindle.

Todd Boyce as detective novelist and complex game player Andrew Wyke in Sleuth. Picture: Jack Merriman

Twelve-year runs in the West End and on Broadway are testament to Sleuth’s appeal to theatregoers and devotees of the national pastime of amateur sleuthing alike. Add the directorial elan of Rachel Kavanaugh and it still works waspishly, wittily, wonderfully well.

In his grand Wiltshire manor house, Boyce’s wealthy, erudite, insufferable author Wyke is writing his latest St John Lord Merridew mystery. In country suit and tie, he looks and sounds very pleased with himself, awaiting the arrival of a young man of Italian parentage, McDermott’s Milo Tindle.

Ever the devious novelist keen to toy with his audience, Wyke is in the mood for point scoring/mischief making/playing games to match the automata, inventions and games that populate his study in Julie Godfrey’s classically English yet somewhat creepy design. Soon it transpires that Tindle wants to marry Wyke’s heavy-spending, lavish-lifestyle wife, Marguerite. Let the fun and gamesmanship begin in a battle of wills and wits.

McDermott’s Tindle appears to be drawn all too easily into the web of Boyce’s cynical Wyke, dressing up as a clown to stunt the burglary of Marguerite’s jewellery that will fund Marguerite’s expensive tastes and be covered by an insurance claim, but never judge a detective novel by its cover or indeed a novelist by his front.

The sudden appearance of Wyke’s gun changes the playful tone to deathly serious, but how can we be sure what is real and imaginary in his mind games or in what we are seeing?

Sleuth director Rachel Kavanaugh. Picture: United Agents

Rather than giving the game away, let’s say twists, turns and surprises plenty are in store in Act Two, after speculative interval chatter over what might ort might not be going on. Inspector Doppler will appear to make his uncoventional enquiries, later joined by the noises off of Detective Sergeant Tarrant and Police Constables.

Who is one step ahead: Wyke, Tindle or the audience? Not telling. Who’s bluffing? Not telling! Who’s on superb form? Director and cast alike, so too sound designer Andy Graham and lighting designer Tim Oliver.

Boyce and McDermott delight in Shaffer’s wit and authorial chicanery, his turn of phrase and unpredictable humour, his love of the thriller and the craft of writing. Do not let Sleuth slip by this week; it is one of those nights of clever, smart, stylish theatre that makes you love the artform.

The Jolly Jack Tar automata may have the last laugh on stage, but you will be the one wreathed in smiles as you leave the theatre, so glad to have experienced such an intriguing, criminally good drama.

Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow, 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office:

From Corrie villain to detective novelist for Todd Boyce in Shaffer’s dark psychological thriller Sleuth at Grand Opera House

Todd Boyce in the role of detective novelist Andrew Wyke in Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth, on tour at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Jack Merriman

CORONATION Street villain Todd Boyce and ex-EastEnders soap star Neil McDermott team up in Sleuth, Anthony Shaffer’s “dark psychological thriller about thrillers”, at the Grand Opera House, York, from next Tuesday to Saturday.

Boyce’s character, wealthy, world-famous detective novelist Andrew Wyke, invites his wife’s lover and adversary (McDermott’s Milo Tindle) to his impressive English home for the deal of a lifetime.

Cue a jewellery heist, insurance fraud and the ultimate revenge as Milo finds himself unwittingly drawn into a tangled web of intrigue and cat-and-mouse gamesmanship, where nothing is quite as it seems.

Directed on tour by Rachel Kavanaugh, who was once at the helm of such plays as Hapgood, His Dark Materials and The Madness Of George III at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Sleuth is a disorientating study of human conflict, jealousy and manipulation that promises to “baffle even the most proficient sleuth”.

Set to make his debut Grand Opera House appearance next week, Todd Boyce says Sleuth has been drawing a “terrific response” since opening at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, on January 31.

Neil McDermott’s Milo Tindle, left, turning tables on Todd Boyce’s Andrew Wyke in Rachel Kavanaugh’s touring procuction of Sleuth. Picture: Jack Merriman

“It’s being really well received; we’ve had ovations with people standing up. We even overheard one chap say, ‘it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen at this theatre’. Neil took a bit of umbrage at that as he’d played there last year!”

Working with McDermott for the first time, Todd says: “We’ve got on really well through the rehearsals and now on stage, which is so important. It’s a play with humour in it and some shocking moments, and it becomes easier to play as you do it more and more, getting into the rhythm and musicality of the piece.

“Neil’s part requires quite a bit of physicality; he’s nearly 20 years younger than me [Todd is 62], so I’ve left that in his department, while I manage to hang on to the furniture!”

Todd is revelling in working with Rachel Kavanaugh. “She’s so bright, so intelligent, and what’s so reassuring for a play like Sleuth is her eye for clarity,” he says.

“She wanted it to be, not a dusted-off old piece, but really relevant to now. In terms of freshening it up, she wanted to make sure it was specific in its rhythm, with the phrasing being right in every line.”

Sleuth ran for 12 years in London and New York, winning the Tony Award for Best Play, and became the inspiration for the 1972 film starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.

At gun point: Todd Boyce’s Andrew Wyke makes his point to Neil McDermott’s Milo Tindle in Sleuth. Picture: Jack Merriman

Assessing its continuing appeal to audiences, Todd says: “The play is sophisticated, complex, and it turns darker than Wyke had bargained for, prompting Milo to seek retribution.

“Wyke is a guy with a lot of money and not a lot of empathy for those around him. The two-hour traffic on this stage changes from comfy to Wyke not knowing where he’s going in their interactions that turn everything on its head.”

Todd has his place in the record books for his role as bad guy Stephen Reid in Coronation Street, first in 1996-1997, next 2007 and latterly 2022-2023.

“I think I broke the record for the number of episodes in a one-year period, 193. That was extremely intensive,” he recalls. “Afterwards a lot of my colleagues said, go and have a break, but of course I did panto, didn’t I! Mother Goose at Derby Arena, a velodrome for cycling and concerts that switched into this amazing theatre within it.”

Who did Todd play? “Demon Vanity”. The baddie, of course!

Sleuth, Grand Opera House, York, February 26 to March 2, 7.30pm nightly; Wednesday and Saturday, 2.30pm matinees. Box office: