Kings Theatre, Edinburgh – Until Saturday 9 October 2021
Reviewed by Ellen Searle
Looking Good Dead is looking good live!
That this is the fifth of Peter James’ popular Roy Grace detective series to be adapted to the stage tells its own tale. We Brits love a good detective yarn, and Shaun McKenna’s adaptation from the novel, directed by Jonathan O’Boyle, gives us just that, with bells on.
The main setting is modern Brighton in the home of the Bryce family, where heavily in debt business owner Tom (Adam Woodyatt) bickers with his wife Kellie (Gaynor Faye) to the wearied frustration of their teenage son, Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson). When Tom asks the tech savvy Max to open up a memory stick left behind on a train, to find out who it belongs to and return it to the owner, he unleashes a series of events which are the stuff of nightmares. Or, for the discerning theatre goer with a penchant for the sinister and unexpected, the stuff of dreams ~ kidnap, murder, and much more.
Clever staging allows the audience to watch events unfold seamlessly in three locations: above and behind the swish designer living room of the Bryces, the literal scene of the crime lights up to reveal the murky events that threaten to destroy the family; while the police control room glides in from stage right so the audience can follow the investigation of the crime from the perspectives of detective Roy Grace (Harry Long) and his team sergeant Glen Branson (Leon Stewart), and constable Bella Moy (Gemma Stroyan).
Seeing familiar faces from TV in theatre roles can be distracting, but not so here. Adam Woodyatt, one of Eastenders’ longest standing characters in the shape of Ian Beale, and Gaynor Faye, known to many from Emmerdale, Coronation Street and The Syndicate, are thoroughly convincing as the long married couple who have experienced stresses and strains through the years, but who have weathered the storms. Gemma Stroyan’s performance is equally strong, as she ranges from the family liaison officer dishing out sympathy, sandwiches and practical advice, to jumping into adrenaline fuelled action to defend her charges from danger.
Despite the dysfunction in the Bryce household
~ Kellie is a secret alcoholic, Max wears noise cancelling headphones to block out his parents’ arguing ~ there is a convincing family dynamic and relatability of the characters which makes you care about what happens to them. This is a pacey romp of a thriller, with twists, turns and edge of the seat moments to keep you gripped and entertained from its spine chilling opening scene, to its thrilling denouement two and a half hours later.
Like the best crime dramas, when the twists come, they are at once thoroughly unexpected and completely natural – you wonder why you didn’t see them coming, as only once revealed do you see how the evidence had been laid before you piece by piece. The delight of this is amplified by the audible gasps of fellow theatre goers. You don’t get that on Netflix!