DramaLondonReviewSouth East

Peter James’ Looking Good Dead – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Reviewer: Dan English

Writer: Shaun McKenna

 Director: Jonathan O’Boyle

EastEnders’ Ian and Jane Beale shrug off their soapstar tags in this gripping murder mystery play adapted from Peter James’ original novel in Looking Good Dead.

Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett, as Tom and Kellie Bryce respectively, are the couple caught up when Tom witnesses a violent murder, and are placed in danger requiring protection from troubled detective Roy Grace (Harry Long). The production follows four other successful stage adaptations of James’ novels, with adaptor Shaun McKenna once more returning to pen this version of the original book.

Woodyatt, as Tom, is adept at portraying a businessman who is struggling to keep his marriage, family and business afloat, having exceeded his overdraft, and seemingly is out of luck. Woodyatt is at ease in this role, and swings from the tender father to the embittered husband quite quickly as his life unravels around him. There is an understated command to this performance and, despite the tensions and tribulations Woodyatt’s character suffers, there are moments where it feels that the actor is relishing the opportunity to be back on stage once more.

Brett’s Kellie battles her own demons, wrestling with an alcohol and spending addiction which has never properly been remedied, and which threatens to boil over and sour both her marriage to Tom and relationship with son Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson). It does not take long for the fragilities of Kellie’s character to become clear, and Brett does well to enlarge the subtleties of the role to bring Kellie’s strife to life. The working relationship between Woodyatt and Brett from playing a chaotic TV marriage on Albert Square adds a quirk to this particular performance, but the understanding the two actors have with each other quickly establishes a bond.

Ward-Wilkinson, as Max, is good at capturing a genuinely irritating yet doting son keen to hold his parents’ marriage together. A caricature of teenagers in 2022, Ward-Wilkinson does deliver a stereotypical teenage role well, with some of the role’s angst pouring onto the stage.

As troubled Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, Harry Long does well to get into the shoes of the awkward investigator navigating life on the force. Long is good as the commanding character, and his dry delivery of the policeman’s wit suits the role well. In this particular adaption of a James novel, there is little opportunity to develop Grace’s character as there has been in other productions, and it is a shame that the hidden tensions within Grace’s psyche are not given stage time in this piece.

Designed by Michael Holt, Looking Good Dead relies on a simple yet effective trio of sets which can be manipulated quickly to enable the pace of a typical murder mystery to flow. The combination of the set with a clever lighting design blends locations effectively, and does offer a cinematic feel to this theatrical experience.

There are, without giving too much away, enough twists and turns to keep the average armchair, or in this case theatregoer, sleuth guessing right up until the end. It is a little jarring in places, but slight holes and discrepancies can be overlooked by a diligent cast which bring to life a piece which presents James’ original novel confidently.

Runs until Saturday 5th March, then continues to tour.

The Reviews Hub Score

A meandering murder mystery

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