Written by: Shaun McKenna, adapted from the novel by Peter James
Directed by: Jonathan O’Boyle
Before you take your seat at Leeds Grand Theatre to watch Looking Good Dead, based on the novel by Peter James, make sure to visit the bar and get yourself a few beverages. Once the show starts, this will enable you to play a wonderfully fun drinking game.
Crime novel cliché such as the first victim being a sex worker? Drink.
Terribly mangled accent? Drink
Actors march on or off stage in a line? Drink twice.
You will be hammered by the end of Act 1.
Looking Good Dead is a classic crime thriller boiled down from what it must be imagined is a very complex and well explained novel to a two hour truncation where the audience needs to suspend more than just the usual amount of disbelief. Practically bankrupt entrepreneur Tom Bryce (Adam Woodyatt, of Eastenders fame) finds a memory stick on the train home, and asks his son Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) to help him open it. The 17 year old (who looks at least 25) downloads some software to break the heavily encripted password, because that is something readily available on the Apple Store, and they end up watching a live stream snuff film from a man called Mick (Mylo McDonald with a terrible Irish accent, although at least that is explained by the end). The police get involved, the pressure ramps up, and Tom’s wife Kellie (Gaynor Faye, most recently seen in The Syndicate) ends up being kidnapped. The race is on to find Mick before a new snuff film gets streamed…
Which all sounds fantastic, and the ending twist is genuinely surprising, eliciting gasps from the audience. If only the acting that gets them there was anything like as good. Instead everything feels decidedly amateurish. Every single actor either speaks their lines completely flat and rushed, or constantly acts at level 10, meaning that any tension a scene might contain has nowhere to go. The less said about the soap style gesticulating the better. Eventually everything gets a bit, well, boring – which should be impossible with such a strong plot. Another issue is that a lot of the story relies on complex software and technology being able to do a whole host of disruptive things outside the understanding of your regular Joe, and as a result comes across as rather magical and convenient since it doesn’t have time to be explained.
The bright points of the show are a couple of good throw away gags, as well as the design. The split stage that designer Michael Holt has created is very clever, and the lighting (by Jason Taylor) and sound (by Max Pappenheim) add wonderful atmosphere, especially to Mick’s scenes. This allows McDonald – making his professional stage debut – to be the only actor who is genuinely believable, with his in your face portrayal of the murderer, but the aforementioned overacting of his costars unfortunately undercuts his performance.
It is a shame that what could be a fantastic show is let down so badly by the cast. Maybe give this one a miss, unless you enjoy formulaic thrillers and are a big fan of the famous names attached.
Runs until 11th September 2021