Looking Good Dead

Oct 6 2021 | By More

★★☆☆☆    Unfortunate

King’s Theatre: Tues 5 – Sat 9 Oct 2021
Review by Hugh Simpson

Subtle as a bulldozer and only sporadically gripping, Looking Good Dead, which is at the King’s all week, works on one level as undemanding entertainment, but is not exactly guaranteed to have the crowds flocking back to the theatres.

Another adaptation of a best-selling DS Roy Grace novel by Peter James, this is a murder yarn that does not so much stretch the bounds of credulity as leap over them at the first opportunity. Thereafter it is an uneasy mix of police procedural and melodrama that would be extremely nasty if it wasn’t so profoundly silly.

Adam Woodyatt and Gaynor Faye. Pic Alastair Muir

This story (also recently seen on TV) deals with Tom Bryce, a businessman on the verge of bankruptcy, who discovers a USB stick on the train. Attempting to find who owns the device, he discovers a website featuring real-life murder, and his family are suddenly in danger.

DS Grace is a character who is often open to seeking supernatural help in his cases, something that works much better in print than on the stage. That is thankfully not much in evidence here (unless you count the spookily magical properties of the USB stick) but the police, despite being represented by three characters, seem to be lacking in concentration and resourcefulness to an extent that is almost criminal.

Outwitted by almost everyone and largely sidelined, Grace seems to rely on the suggestions of outside experts (when he finally gets round to consulting them), or waiting for anonymous tip-offs to tell him what to do.

profoundly undramatic

This lack of action may be realistic, but it is profoundly undramatic. So many actors have now tried to portray Grace, with such unprepossessing results, that it must be concluded that the character simply lacks charisma on stage. Harry Long’s solid, likeable performance is probably the best that could be hoped for.

Leon Stewart is on a hiding to nothing as his sidekick Glenn, forced to deliver a series of ‘jokes’ that are met with a stony silence. That such an accomplished performer as Gemma Stroyan is ill-at-ease as DC Moy only shows how underwritten her character is.

Gaynor Faye, Luke Ward-Wilkinson, Leon Stewart and Adam Woodyatt. Pic: Alastair Muir

The cops are saddled with such extraordinary dialogue as ‘a pair of snuff movies of a particularly nasty kind’ (as opposed to the delightful kind, presumably). They are also not remotely concerned by people having their throats cut, only by the fact that scarab beetles are placed in the wound, which only shows how loopy this all is.

Similarly unfortunate dialogue is also constantly given to the Bryces’ 17-year-old son Max, whose computer skills are either genius-level or frustratingly lacking depending on the demands of the plot at any given moment. That Luke Ward-Wilkinson does so well with such unpromising material speaks highly of his talent.

Of course, you do not play the one-man Greek tragedy that is EastEnders’ Ian Beale for 36 years without some serious acting chops, and Adam Woodyatt is more than serviceable as Tom Bryce, making some of this almost plausible. This is marketed, if not conceived, as a vehicle for Woodyatt, and he certainly does enough to satisfy his fans. His relationship with wife Kellie, however, does not stand up to much scrutiny.

the maximum of conviction

Recovering alcoholic, compulsive cleaner and credit card addict Kellie is such a curious collection of stereotypes that even the best efforts of another familiar TV face in Gaynor Faye do not convince.

The rest of the cast (Ian Houghton, Mylo McDonald and Natalie Boakye) attack their roles with the maximum of conviction.

That you could drive a bus through the holes in the plot, or that the requisite twists are by turns overly predictable and utterly bizarre, would not matter so much if the script had as much determination as the acting.

Shaun McKenna’s adaptation suffers from a common problem when adapting novels for the stage, however, in trying to remain too faithful to the narrative. That James is listed as a producer probably does not help in trying a more creative approach.

The staging certainly passes muster, with Michael Holt’s design and Jason Taylor’s lighting meaning that some clever use is made of different acting spaces, although the constant disappearance and reappearance of the police station set does begin to grate.

Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction, meanwhile, is often sufficiently pacy to cover up a great many drawbacks in the storyline, but at other times (perhaps striving to create a doomy atmosphere) is decidedly flat.

This does not help when a greater than normal suspension of disbelief is required to believe in a production that is often funny – although not always intentionally – but is far from convincing.

Running time 2 hours 10 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 5 – Saturday 9 October 2021
Evenings: 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

Glasgow Theatre Royal, 282 Hope Street, Glasgow G2 3QA
Monday 25 – Saturday 29 January 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees Thurs and Sat: 2.30pm
Information and tickets:  Book here.

Adam Woodyatt and Luke Ward-Wilkinson. Photo Alastair Muir


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