THEY’VE certainly had their ups and downs in Albert Square, but at The King’s this week, there’s just one thing on the minds of Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace - murder.
The popular soap duo, currently taking a break from their alter-egos Alfie Moon and Kat Slater, star as married couple in Peter James’ dark comedy thriller, The Perfect Murder.
It’s the first time the pair have appeared together on stage and explaining how the casting came about, Richie says, “I got approached to do it two or three years ago because Peter James and I are very good friends, we live close to each other and he has always loved what I’ve done and I’ve always read his books.
“But, of course, I couldn’t do it because I was tied down with EastEnders. Then, last year my manager said there was another chance to do it and I mentioned Jessie, not for one moment thinking the producers would go for it, but we put a package together and the producers jumped at it. They’re not daft, they knew there was a brand there.”
Richie and Wallace play Victor Smiley and his wife Joan, a couple who have been married for a long time.
Their marriage has reached crisis point and Victor has decided there is only one way to get Joan out of his life forever... but he’s about to get a nasty surprise.
As a young detective, Roy Grace starts to investigate his very first homicide case, dark forces intervene and Grace begins to fear that nothing is quite as it seems.
“It’s a very dark, black comedy,” says Richie, who recently played Warden Hodges in We’re Doomed: The Dad’s Army Story and guest- starred in ITV’s Benidorm.
“This couple are in a loveless, childless marriage and hate each other, but instead of going to Relate to get them through...” he stops before giving too much away. “It’s bit like laughing at a funeral, you know, that horrible feeling you get when you just can’t help yourself even though you are doing your best not to laugh.”
For the 51-year-old actor, it’s a chance to “flex those other muscles” he says.
“Whether playing live with my band, doing stand-up comedy or doing theatre, it is nice to flex those other muscles. I’ve always tried to balance what I do with the TV work.
“I know by the end of tour I’ll be ready to go back to TV again, and then by the end of four months filming I’ll be ready to do theatre again. It’s all about balance.”
The Perfect Murder also gives Richie and Wallace the opportunity to show there is more to them than Alfie and Kat.
“We thought it would be good to go out individually as actors and show people that we can do other stuff as well,” he adds.
“The reviews we’ve got so far have been really nice. In fact, a lot of them say ‘don’t expect to see Kat and Alfie’, which is good, because after 14 years playing those characters that’s what a lot of people come along to see, they think that’s all we can do.
“So it’s been nice to surprise people with very different characters.”
The transition back to stage wasn’t instant, however, admits Richie. After a decade and a half on telly, he found he had to adjust his acting style.
“At first I struggled with the lines, even more so with making my performance big enough for the stage. Television is very minimal, you can’t do that on stage or the people at the back of the theatre see nothing. So working with the wonderful director Ian Talbot, we had to change our acting styles.
“Acting on stage, film and television are all very different techniques, and I really enjoyed getting back to stage acting.”
And Richie, who last appeared at The King’s in the hit musical Boogie Nights, can’t think of anywhere he’d rather be on stage.
“If I was going to be anywhere, there’s nowhere better than Edinburgh. I don’t think Jessie’s been before so there are a few things I want to take her to, a few of the tours and great restaurants. So I’m going to cram in as much of it as I can remember.
The Perfect Murder, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, until Saturday, £17-£30.50, 0131-529 6000