First things first: despite growing up in the 80s - and once owning a version of every single outfit sported by Alex Drake on Ashes to Ashes - certain aspects of my upbringing appear to have been deficient. I have never watched The A-Team, and I have never seen Columbo, and thus did not share the whoops (yes, actual whoops) of enthusiasm emitted by some of my friends upon learning that Dirk Benedict was to star as Lieutenant Columbo at The Lowry in the current production of Prescription Murder.
Clearly though, many others shared their excitement, as last night's performance was absolutely packed. The story of Prescription Murder - Columbo's first ever case - scarcely matters; suffice to say that you see the murder being committed in scene two, and must then watch as Columbo shuffles and smokes his way to solving the case. The premise of the character seems simple - he looks a mess! he smokes cigars in a louche manner! his hair is wild and his voice gravelly...yet he's SMART! Certainly too smart for the oily psychiatrist who has bumped his own wife off.
And to be fair to Dirk Benedict, he does a good job with this. Having never seen the original I cannot vouch for authenticity, but he certainly exudes charm and cunning in spades. Perhaps most interesting is his effect upon women (and men) of a certain age - my friend confessed to him having been her favourite 80s crush, and was almost overcome by the position of our seats in the second row, barely resisting the urge to reach out and give him a quick stroke from time to time. The man in front of us was even more taken with Dirk, his enthusiasm so palpable that the great man rewarded him with a special wink at curtain call. One point to note though: don't be fooled by the publicity photo accompanying the play, which a cynic may say was perhaps taken in a different decade (or century) entirely.
The supporting cast do their best to shine in the presence of such stardom, and do a pretty good job (one or two slightly ropey American accents aside). And to save you the frustration of trying to work out who is playing the unfortunate wife, it's Susannah Farnham of Max & Susannah Brookside fame; clearly born to play ill-fated wives throughout her acting career (one day she'll live; one day....)
The play is quite long at around two and a half hours including interval, but passes in a flash and requires absolutely no brain power. Staging is slick and effective, and contributes to a seamlessly entertaining package which has allowed me to tick off two boxes on my "to-do" list: Dirk Benedict? Check. Columbo? Check. But if my ticket-happy friends are reading, I just want to make it clear that I'm drawing the line at the A-Team film.
- Prescription Murder is on at The Lowry until Sat 12th June; visit www.thelowry.com forr more details.