Strictly Murder/Malvern Theatres

JOSEF bursts into the house, aiming and swivelling his Lee Enfield rifle in the manner of present-day special response unit officer on ops.

He’s clothed in rags and First World War era puttees, a kind of Greengrass character transported from TV’s Heartbeat to Provence. Placing his weapon on the table, he proceeds to eat an apple.

Despite all this apparently conflicting detail, we’re being led to believe that the setting is the south of France just before the outbreak of war in the spring of 1939.

And then - as if to add further to this tangle of imagery - Josef (Andrew Fettes) emits an explosive ‘sieg heil’ when a German voice comes over on the radio. Confused? Believe me, we haven’t even started…

Of course, total confusion is the very nature of this particular brand of thriller and writer Brian Clemens certainly knows a thing or two about plot, counter-plot and throwing us completely off the scent.

So when we think we’ve bade farewell to Ross (Brian Capron) just before the interval, something seems to tell us that we may not have seen the last of him.

Capron, by the way, must still be justifiably dining out on his Dick Dastardly reputation, the spectre of Corrie serial killer Richard Hillman reprising with every menacing utterance hissed through his ventriloquist’s teeth. He undeniably has all the charm of a constipated cobra on a bad hair day.

Elsewhere, Gary Turner as the edgy and perhaps equally deadly British ex-pat Peter Meredith oozes darkness and malice… just who is he, this artist who wields a kitchen knife with the same precise dexterity that he employs with paint brush and oils?

Lara Lemon as hapless, hopelessly confused and heavily pregnant Suzy Hinchcliffe is the only constant in this web of intrigue, while Corrinne Wicks’ Miriam Miller does an elegantly neat line in Gestapo chic.

Strictly Murder may be a little bit end-of-the-pier but it’s deliciously unpredictable and great fun all the same. It runs until Saturday (June 24).

John Phillpott