In it, he’ll play Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. “I haven’t been on-stage for about 10 years,” says George, “so it’s good to be part of an ensemble again.”
This absence from the boards is explained by the nine years – some 300 episodes in all – he spent playing Ethan Hardy in BBC1’s Casualty. Before that, in the first two series of Call the Midwife, he played Jessica Raine’s unfaithful boyfriend, Jimmy Wilson.
After the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, George gravitated to theatre work. “I’ve always enjoyed the live element of doing a play, the audience reaction, the adrenalin it generates and so on.”
He auditioned for the key role of Roy Grace in August. “It’s a fantastic role, something I can really get my teeth into.” As a result, he’s been reading author Peter James’s back catalogue of murder mysteries – “always so beautifully plotted” – and watching the first two television series of Grace with actor John Simm playing the eponymous policeman.
The TV series was an immediate success with audiences when it launched on ITV in 2021, with almost nine million viewers tuning in to watch the primetime drama. Series two returned to TV screens in spring 2022, with five more episodes being the most watched programme across all channels on each of the Sundays they were broadcast. A third series is now in the works.
The twist in Wish You Were Dead is that Roy is on holiday in France with his wife, Cleo (Giovanna Fletcher), and their baby. “He’s not working. It’s supposed to be a lovely and peaceful escape for him and Cleo but crime comes looking for Grace and finds him.”
Is it scary? “I hope so. In a tense, edge of your seat, kind of way. Roy has to use all his wits to ensure his loved ones come to no harm. It’s full of surprises. But then, I think audiences like being scared a little.”
Will it involve fisticuffs? “Oh yes, a bit of that and possibly some bodies although I’m not about to give the game away.”
George knows about pretend-fighting. In a play at the RSC in 2009, he was required to look as though he’d landed a punch in a bar room brawl on fellow actor Luke Norris. Except that, on one occasion, he misjudged the swing and made heavy contact with his assailant.
“The result was that I hit him in the mouth with enough force for his teeth to puncture his lip and take a chunk out of the joint on my fist. He looked worse than me but I ended up in hospital for a week.”
The world stage premiere of Wish You Were Dead will be the sixth stage adaptation of Peter James’ novels, making it the most successful crime thriller stage franchise since Agatha Christie. Previous novels brought to the stage include: Looking Good Dead; The House on Cold Hill; Not Dead Enough; Dead Simple and The Perfect Murder.
“I’m really looking forward to visiting places I’ve never been before,” says an enthusiastic George. “I’ll only be able to get home once a week or Sunday wash day, as I’ll call it.”
He’s never worked with Giovanna before but he and Clive were in a Doctor Who audio drama. “And then there was an edition of Pointless Celebrities featuring actors who’d been in Casualty.
“As I’m sure he’ll be only too happy to point out, I was kicked off at the end of the first round and he and his partner went on to win.”
Nor does Clive disappoint. “I thrashed him roundly on Pointless,” he says, eyes glinting. “I left him snivelling in the dirt. I’ve won Pointless twice, as it happens. In fact, I’m thinking of pinning my Pointless trophies to my dressing room door to wind George up.”
Clive fell in love with his character, Curtis, he says, as soon as he read the script of Wish You Were Dead. “And I speak as someone who used to hide behind the sofa as a youngster when the theme music of Doctor Who struck up.”
Fun to play though? “Oh yes he’s very sharp, very sarcastic, often very funny. But I do intend to frighten the audience at some points in the evening,”
Nor is the story left open-ended. “People like to try and solve the clues ahead of the action but, either way, they want a satisfying resolution at the end of play.”
He’s very happy to be involved in a project with Peter James’s name attached to it. “Go into any bookshop and half the crime section seems to be taken up with his books.”
In a career covering some 45 years, Clive has played everything from poor lumbering Lenny in Of Mice and Men (“seven times now, I think”) to longstanding cast member, surgeon Mike Barratt, in both Casualty and Holby.
He played recurring character, Simon Horton, in the Vicar of Dibley featuring in the iconic ‘puddle scene’ with Dawn French. More recently, he’s been seen in another light comedy, White Van Man, opposite Will Mellor, currently kicking up a storm on Strictly.
“I played his dad and he taught me a lot about comedy. But then, I taught him everything he knows about dancing,” he says, tongue firmly in cheek.
While on tour, Clive will also use any downtime to write the latest in his series of historical adventures for children aged from about eight upwards, each book based around a major event: the Great Fire of London, for instance, or the conquering of Everest. His leading characters are time travellers able to pop up wherever whenever.
Writing is also a string on Giovanna Fletcher’s multi-strung bow. She’s now written eight novels, two novellas and two non-fiction and is an unapologetic fan of Peter James. “There’s a reason why an author’s books always make the bestseller lists. It’s the same with his plays.
“But I hadn’t read any of them up until recently because I’m scared of thrillers. I’m now reading Wish You Were Dead, though, because I want to understand more about the characters.
“And I’m going to do a dive backwards into earlier books for the same reason. I’m also going to catch up with the TV series – for background information.”
The setting for this one is slightly different. “You’re seeing the Graces in a domestic setting: they’re on holiday with their small son. I like the fact that we see them behind closed doors.”
For someone who frightens easily, Giovanna’s clearly a sucker for punishment. She recently finished a spell in the West End run of the distinctly spine-tingling 2:22: A Ghost Story. “I must say, I did enjoy making the audience jump which is exactly what I hope will happen this time round.”
This will be the first time she’s toured, having committed to the first 10 weeks up to the end of April. “I’m so pleased that theatre is fully open and thriving again and that we can visit all these wonderful venues around the country.”
Married to McFly band member, Tom Fletcher, she’ll be leaving their three boys – Buzz, Buddy and Max – at home. “Not that they’re old enough to see a play like this.”
In fact, the only thing they’ve been able to watch with Mum in it was when she was crowned Queen of the Castle in ITV’s I’m A Celebrity a couple of years ago.
The little lads have clearly been an inspiration to Giovanna for her successful podcast, Happy Mum, Happy Baby which, famously, featured the Princess of Wales in 2020 when Kate discussed her work with Early Years, the organisation dedicated to young children.
For now, though, Giovanna is donning a grown-up hat and, along with George and Clive, is about to hit the road in an intriguing thriller. “How nice,” she says, “to be able to provide what I know will be two hours of pure escapism.”
Wish You Were Dead is touring across the UK from 16 February until 29 July,
Theatre Royal Brighton | Monday 20 March – Saturday 25 March
Interview by Richard Barber