Looking Good Dead is at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh from Tuesday 05 Oct to Saturday 09 Oct, and this stage adaption and production of the Peter James book (published 2006) featuring DSI Roy Grace (Harry Long) and DS Glenn Branson (Leon Stewart) is obviously one for the many followers of this now classic crime book series.
This show has some very experienced cast members, and our two main characters in this story Tom Bryce and Kellie Bryce are played by Adam Woodyatt and Gaynor Faye, and their depth of understanding of the craft of acting is what gives this production its anchor points. Together, they are also the perfect couple to give their on-stage son Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) the chance to work within the on-stage world that their combined experience can create.
Looking Good Dead, however, has some in-built problems that even Peter James and his skilled team of experienced actors, creative and production teams (including director Jonathan O’Boyle and stage adaptation by Shaun Mckenna) cannot overcome. That problem appears to be the necessary constraints of time to tell a story in a stage production. This one perhaps has an even more acute problem here as the performance time is roughly two acts of one hour each.
Taking any novel to the stage is always going to be a work of many compromises and although the first act has some fine performances by Adam Woodyatt and Gaynor Faye as the severely under stress couple, the time spent establishing their characters and their domestic and financial background leaves so little time for the main crime drama that it simply feels rushed and over simplified. This in turn leads to too many unanswered “whys and hows” in the second half of a story that already is becoming a little predictable in its outcome, well to me anyhow, and I have not even read the book. Some of the later scenes are also stretching the bounds of believability a little far as the compression of what originally has to be a far more complex story starts to show. None of this is helped by the cold aloofness, and almost personal detachment of DCI Roy Grace from the plight of victims of this story (maybe that is how murder investigation DCIs survive their job?), and I have to assume that this is how the character is directed here as Harry Long has the performance skills to play any type of character that he wants.
This story has obviously been updated for our digital age, and Looking Good Dead has more than a few plot twists and misdirections (as you would expect) when some of the darker sides of the internet are explored here, with security and privacy being touched upon, and all of this is relevant within the context of the daily lives of the Bryce family, but overall, once we step out of the normality of daily life into this disturbing alternative world, everything is still too light and comfortable.
The true power of Looking Good Dead is, however, the dark side of what some people will pay to view on the internet, and what is truly chilling here is both what that content can be and the apparent ease of availability of it. This of course takes us back to the core of this story and what I am missing from it; that feeling of the sheer terror of what it must feel like to be an unwilling participant in this dark corner of this particular pay-for-view digital world.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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