Based on the novel by: Peter James
Adapted by: Shauna McKenna
Director: Jonathan Boyle
Based on the award-winning novel by acclaimed crime novelist Peter James, Looking Good Dead promises to be an “evening of suspense” that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat until the closing moments.
Unfortunately, those seeking to be scared out of their skins will be somewhat disappointed.
More farcical than fear-inducing, the play starts by introducing the family it centres around, as well as a soon-to-be victim of an underground ‘snuff movie’ industry, and a sinister masked man.
When Tom Bryce (Adam Woodyatt, of Ian Beale from Eastenders fame), a failing businessman on the verge of bankruptcy, finds a USB stick on the train. He brings it home to check the contents, with the intention of returning it to the rightful owner.
Dubious motive aside, his actions spark a series of events that draw him and his family – a son, Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson), and wife, Kellie (Gaynor Faye, seen in The Syndicate) – into a dark underworld of murder, blackmail, and threat.
The plot itself promises to be very good, with some genuinely surprising twists. Where the novel is more in-depth and adept at building suspense, though, the stage adaptation is squashed and full of holes, without proper time to explain some critical points or to develop any of the characters in an authentic way.
What makes it even more disappointing is that any degree of suspense or tension is destroyed by the turned-up-to-ten soap-style acting of the cast. An over-exaggeration of lines, movements, and interactions strips away a sense of credibility or authenticity to the characters, diminishing the potential for suspense or surprise.
What we’re left with, then, is a fairly amusing whodunnit performance, complete with a team of inept police officers who spend more time cracking puns than hunting down the killer, while the fast-paced finale elicits more snorts and chuckles, than it does gasps from the audience.
The saving graces and points of genuine interest are the split staging, which is very clever and well thought out (designed by Michael Holt), and the lighting and sound (Jason Taylor and Max Pappenheim), which add the atmosphere and nuance that the cast’s performance lacks.
All in all, Looking Good Dead is an enjoyable enough watch if you take it as a tongue-in-cheek romp, rather than a serious piece of drama – but the production struggles to fit the way it’s been billed, that of a “suspenseful thriller”.
If you’re up for a laugh and are keen to see a famous cast, grab a beverage before going in and take in the play for what it is. But, if you’re looking for an intense, jumpy, or truly absorbing performance, perhaps give this one a miss.
Reviewed on 28 September 2021