Writer: Peter James
Adaptor: Shaun McKenna
Director: Jonathan O’Boyle
Looking Good Dead poses a problem, a mystery, at the end. In the final scene, after all sorts of revelations and indiscriminate seizing of pistols, the audience’s laughter is obvious. Then comes a rousing curtain call and members of the audience can be heard saying how good it was as they exit. The problem is, “Is it meant to be funny?”.
On the one hand there are the three police stuffed up together in a cramped little station downstage left, with Glenn Branson (Leon Stewart) decorating a murder investigation with silly jokes and Roy Grace (Harry Long) finishing them off for him. On the other hand there is very little in the other performances to suggest a spoof and Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction, and particularly Long’s stiff-as-a-board performance, don’t hint at it.
Let’s be charitable and quote author Peter James from the programme: “I write thrillers because I love entertaining people.” However, in the same note, he also writes about having us on the edge of our seats – and that doesn’t happen. Apparently Looking Good Dead is one of a series of books/plays featuring Superintendent Roy Grace and in Shaun McKenna’s stage version he seems strangely incompetent.
The opening is certainly dramatic. On a raised area at the back of the stage a glamorous young woman enters, calling out to an unseen man. There is an unmistakeable air of menace, then the man answers and she relaxes and takes off her coat to reveal an even more glamorous get-up. Then the lights are killed and we come up on Tom Bryce’s house in Brighton just before he returns battered from his day at work.
Tom Bryce is a businessman whose business is failing. His alcoholic, spendthrift wife Kellie doesn’t help to balance the books, nor does his son Max who seems to spend all his time loafing around. Tom has picked up a memory stick from the train home and now, with Max’s assistance, he seeks to find a clue as to its owner. Instead he finds a “snuff” movie, brought to a terrifying end. From then on it’s a matter of threats upon threats, quarrels succeeding quarrels, until the first act curtain gives us a dramatic, if implausible, abduction to discuss over our interval drink.
Adam Woodyatt (Tom) and Laurie Brett (Kellie) are more convincing than most of the cast, he dour, prone to flashes of temper, she inclined to deception and devoted to her son. Sadly your reviewer has not read the book, but is inclined to believe that the story is a deal more complicated, taking attention from the Bryce household who emerge as not terribly interesting despite those last-minute revelations.
Runs until 2nd April 2022