DramaReviewSouth East

Not Dead Enough – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Director: Ian Talbot
Writer: Shaun McKenna based on the novel by Peter James
Reviewer: Dan English

It is a dangerous time to be a woman in Brighton as the latest play inspired by the novels of Peter James embarks on its newest UK tour.

Not Dead Enough is the third in a series of plays created as adaptations from the widely successful James’ murder mystery novels, premiering at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre with Shane Richie this time taking the helm as the troubled Detective Superintendent Grace.

Investigating the death of popular philanthropist Katie Bishop, Grace’s personal demons cloud his judgment as he contends with hunting for his missing wife, Sandy, and the seemingly sinister widower, Brian (Stephen Billington). There are moments of real horror in this production as the net tightens as a serial killer hits the south coast city.

Set almost exclusively in either the police station or the mortuary, Ian Talbot’s production focuses deeply on the act of investigation. The scenes in the mortuary are unnerving and bring to the fore the examination of the human psyche that dominates this play. Michael Holt’s design allows the action to take place simultaneously in both areas, aiding in the gripping storytelling. Littered with mortician’s tools, the setting helps create the haunting atmosphere that ends the first half.

Richie’s troubled DS Grace allows Richie to show a more serious side to the cheeky rogue type characters we are used to seeing him play. There are moments of excellence in his interrogations of Brian with his frustration being equally felt by the spectator too. Richie’s performance helps to keep the production moving forward, with the scenes without him often being the most stagnant. Despite it being a more neurotic performance for Richie, there are still numerous opportunities to show off his natural comic timing, executing the wit of writer Shaun McKenna in scenes with his Sergeant. Glenn Branson (Michael Quartey), who is equal to Richie’s quick delivery.

Laura Whitmore swaps presenting for pathology as Cleo, the pathologist who is also Grace’s new lover. It’s a successful switch for Whitmore as she creates a Cleo that struggles to see past Grace’s longing for his estranged wife. There are several moments were Cleo experiences sudden emotional outburst and these are carefully created by Whitmore. In a performance where women are often manipulated by men, it is refreshing to see a strong female figure in Cleo’s character, although this does appear to lose pace as the production draws to its climax.

Billington’s performance as Brian Bishop conjures a mysterious and untrustworthy figure that fits perfectly with McKenna’s script. The frustration of Bishop as he maintains his innocence is delivered with a nervousness that allows suspicion to creep in on behalf of the investigators and the audience. Billington’s performance is exhausting with Bishop’s erratic behaviour certainly difficult to keep up with and it is testament to Billington that although his role’s personality alters greatly throughout, he maintains an engaging temperament. His scenes with Richie are a highlight as the net seems to close in on him.

There are strong supporting roles from Quartey, Gemma Stroyan as Bella and Gemma Atkins at Sophie. The latter creates a powerful role as Whitmore’s pathologist assistant with some of the character’s scenes involving strong violence and sexual violence, being most disturbing of the whole production, delivered by Atkins to harrowing effect.

Although performed admirably but a strong leading and ensemble cast, there are limitations to McKenna’s script, presumably a hangover from James’ original. It is full of the twists and turns synonymous with the whodunit genre, yet but the climax it feels has if the plot has subverted one too many times. That said, there are real gasp-worthy moments to this piece.

There are scenes of horror and genuinely uncomfortable moments that are unsettling which move this away from the primetime tongue-in-cheek murder mysteries into a darker, more menacing world of violent brutality, to powerful effect.

Runs until 28 January 2017 and then tours | Image: Contributed

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