Not Dead Enough – Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton

Writer: Shaun McKenna based on the novel by Peter James

Director: Ian Talbot

Reviewer: David Robinson

Novelist Peter James’ Roy Grace detective novels have sold over eighteen million copies and been translated into numerous languages, as well as comfortably sitting for many weeks at the top of the Sunday Times bestseller list. Not Dead Enough is the third stage adaptation of a James’ novel and Shaun McKenna has tailored the script appropriately with a dizzying amount of twists and turns.

The ingenious set switches effortlessly from mortuary to police headquarters to a beach front in Brighton, all insightfully lit by designer Jason Taylor. The race to apprehend a potential serial killer begins darkly with the death of local benefactress Katie Bishop. The neat moments of tension and indeed, horror, are established early, as indeed are the personal demons that are disturbing for Detective Superintendent Grace. The echoes of the case bring back memories of Grace’s missing wife Sandy and the curious circumstances that surrounded her disappearance. Seemingly the net of suspicion soon begins to close around the distraught widower Brian Bishop (Stephen Billington).

Bill Ward plays the ill-at-ease DS Grace, with an at times sprinter-like pace, allowing for numerous scenes of meaningful pacing and back and forth across the stage. At times, Ward’s almost neurotic energy is a distraction but it does allow for some tense contrasting moments, particularly in his excellent interrogation of number one suspect Brian. Billington’s credible performance is well-judged and he balances superbly his menace and cries of innocence permitting the audience to have a nagging concern about him from beginning to end.

Laura Whitmore takes a break from television presenting which allows her to make her theatrical debut as pathologist Cleo Moray, who also happens to be the new romantic interest for DS Grace. Although not totally convincing in the role there are some nicely constructed moments of emotion and Whitmore’s thoughtful delivery is at times a welcome alternative to Grace’s sprint.

As in all competent thrillers, the supporting characters are key to developing the plot, including both the potential and the unexpected denouement. Accomplished performances in this sphere are aptly given by Gemma Atkins as Whitmore’s pathology assistant Sophie Harrington and by Charlotte Sutherland as the very plausible and watchable lawyer Lara Lloyd.

The final twists and turns of the plot slow down considerably when in sight of the finishing tape and some of the limitations of transferring a book into two hours of a stage adaptation are illuminated. It has the feel of a three-part mini television series and perhaps that is its more natural habitat. There are some very menacing moments and the strong cast run together well in a piece that bravely takes the audience away from the regular whodunit genre and into darker and more sinister environments.

Runs until 6 May 2017 and on tour | Image: Contributed

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One Comment

  1. Really excellent production and some great acting. Shame about the dire dancing!

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