Tuesday, 14 September 2021

REVIEW: Looking Good Dead at the New Victoria Theatre

Peter James has written 36 crime detective novels many featuring his Brighton based Detective Roy Grace and won many awards for his writing with five adapted for the stage and two, Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead adapted for the TV screen. There can be no denying his writing credentials but, in the adaptions, he is reliant on someone else squeezing down his words into a two-hour show. In March 2017 I saw Dead Simple at the Mill at Sonning which has subsequently been adapted into a TV film to much better effect. The problem is portraying multiple locations on a stage and his reliance on technology at the centre of both stories adds to the adaption problems. In Dead Simple, it was a walkie talkie and mobile phones to develop the drama and in Looking Good Dead it is iPads, laptops and noise-cancelling headphones as well as mobiles phones at the centre of the story. These don’t translate easily to the stage.

In his programme notes James writes “one of the essences of drama is that something seemingly utterly normal and every day goes wrong” but in this plot, nothing seems utterly normal at any point. Are we seriously asked to believe that that Tom has found a computer memory stick on a train seat and brings it home to view the contents? James goes on to write he loves to “have you sitting on the edge of your seats, wracked with nervous tension until right up to the very end” but sadly this adaption by Shaun Mckenna had me laid back in my seat in utter disbelief. The situation seemed ludicrous, the characters were all one dimensional and most of the twists and turns were blatantly obvious. Why on earth are we meant to accept that the American Jonas Kent who turns up at Tom’s house ordering 12 Rolex yellow gold Oyster watches for £300,000 is anything but fake? Or that Tom’s business offers “high-end bespoke services” and could deliver this?

When you take your seat, the curtain is raised, and you are looking into an elegantly designed open plan kitchen sitting room, but something looks odd. The back wall is a black cloth with a fawn tapestry centre stage and the kitchen sink does not look out of a window as you would expect but into the black cloth. The opening scene soon makes this transparently clear that this is part of designer’s Michael Bolt’s solution to portraying other critical locations in the plot. The other key scenes are at the Police incident room, but the small truck pushed in from stage left to set this looks like they are meeting in a corridor of a seventies’ office. When we are used to Line of Duty style details on the small screen this on-stage compromise is very weak. Furthermore, at the end of a row at this theatre the sightlines to stage left are very poor.

You feel for the actors. At times they look and sound like they don’t believe any of it either and are mechanically performing the lines to get through another show in another regional theatre. They deserve better material. Adam Woodyatt is the under-pressure Tom, Gaynor Faye his alcoholic cleaning mad wife and Luke Ward-Wilkinson, the seventeen-year-old son (looking about twenty-five!). They are matched by a police threesome of Harry Long as Roy Grace, more a wooden top than a Poirot, his sidekick Glenn Branson (Leon Stewart), cracking very weak jokes throughout and Bella Moy (Gemma Stroyan) a detective constable acting as a family liaison officer. The other threesome is the short-lived Janie (Natalie Boakye), the aforementioned Kent ( Ian Houghton) and a very unpleasant Mick (Mylo McDonald).

The Peter James novels seem to have an interest in dark unpleasant storylines, but he clearly has a strong following. Indeed, the small audience seemed appreciative at the end of what they had seen and the New Victoria Theatre with its Covid Protocols and spacious foyers seems a very safe venue to visit if you are a fan of the Roy Grace stories. It must be hoped that there are enough fans out there to enable these Producers to recoup their investment as they tour around the UK until March next year, but this adaption and production failed to convert me into such a fan.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★

Seat: Stalls, Row G | Price of Ticket: £38
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