George Rainsford and Katie McGlynn in Wish You Were Dead
George Rainsford is “really excited”, he says, about touring the UK as copper Supt Roy Grace in a new production of Peter James’s thriller Wish You Were Dead, adapted from the writer’s best-selling book.
“I haven’t been on-stage for about 10 years,” said George, “so it’s good to be part of a team again.”
The show plays Salford’s Lowry from May 23-27 and Sheffield Lyceum (June 27-July 1).
This absence from the stage is explained by the nine years and 300 episodes he spent playing Ethan Hardy in BBC1’s Casualty. Before that he was Jessica Raine’s unfaithful boyfriend, Jimmy Wilson, in the first two series of Call the Midwife.
“I’ve always enjoyed the live element of doing a play, the audience reaction, the adrenalin it generates and so on. And the reaction we are getting from audiences so far on the tour has been amazing. They seem to be loving it!”
He has been reading author Peter James’s other murder mysteries and has watched the first two television series of Grace with actor John Simm as the character George plays on stage. The TV series has been a big hit, with almost nine million viewers for series one in 2021, and series two last spring being the most-watched programme across all channels on each of the Sundays they played. A third series has just finished on ITV.
The twist in Wish You Were Dead is that Grace is on holiday in France with his wife, Cleo, and their baby. “He’s not working. But when a crime boss, Curtis (Clive Mantle), is released from prison, he’s a man desperate to take revenge on the policeman who got him incarcerated. So crime comes looking for Grace.”
Is it scary? “I hope so. Roy has to use all his wits to ensure his loved ones come to no harm. It’s full of surprises, but I think audiences like being scared! Hearing them gasp each night is great – but the show is also great fun. There’s quite a bit of dark comedy that audiences are really enjoying.”
Wish You Were Dead kicked off a major tour in Bromley in mid-February and runs until July 25, twenty-three theatres later. It’s the sixth stage adaptation of Peter James’s novels, making it the most successful crime thriller theatrical franchise since Agatha Christie. “I’m really enjoying visiting places I’ve never been before,” says an enthusiastic George.
The menacingly huge Clive Mantle plays the baddie. Pic: Alistair Muir
He has worked with Clive Mantle before; both were in a Doctor Who audio drama – and on an edition of TV quiz Pointless Celebrities featuring actors from Casualty: “I thrashed him roundly on Pointless,” says Clive, smiling.
Clive fell in love with his character, Curtis, as soon as he read the script: “It’s fun to play the bad guy. He’s been the head of an old-fashioned family mob in Brighton, with his own set of values. He has a personal moral code which covers slitting your throat without a second’s thought. And don’t say anything bad to his mum…”
Curtis also has a lovely turn of phrase, says Clive. “He’s very sharp, very sarcastic, often very funny. I’ve enjoyed making the audience laugh - they seem to quite like Curtis, despite his criminal intent, but I do also like to frighten the audience at some points in the evening!”
In a 45-year career, Clive has played everything from poor lumbering Lenny in Of Mice and Men to a longstanding cast member in both Casualty and Holby.
The part of Cleo was taken over earlier this month by award-winning TV actress Katie McGlynn – best known from her seven-year stint as Sinead Tinker in Coronation Street and for Strictly Come Dancing.
This is her first theatre experience: “I was quite nervous, but super-eager to get started because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. My career has been on TV, but on stage you get to tell the story in the right order, something that rarely happens on television.”
On the other hand, there are no second-takes on a theatre stage: “That’s right, it’s a completely different beast. You’ve got to get it right the first time! It’s nerve-wracking but that’s what adds to the excitement of a live performance.
“When I left Corrie, I deliberately pursued things I’d never done before. That’s why I accepted the invitation to appear on Strictly. It was a once in a lifetime experience I’ll never forget.”
Given the recent pandemic-led roller-coaster years, says Katie, the role of theatre has never been more important. “The feeling you get being part of a live audience, the goosebumps that run up and down your arms, doesn’t happen at home in front of the telly. You get completely engrossed in a story, taken into a different world.”
More info and tickets here