Jonathan O'Boyle

Looking Good Dead

05/10/21

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Superintendent Roy Grace is the protagonist of Peter James’ popular police procedurals – a diligent but troubled policeman, who’ll stop at nothing to solve a case. In Shaun McKenna’s stage adaptation of the second novel, Looking Good Dead, Grace (Harry Long) is relegated to a supporting role. Instead, the focus here is on the Bryce family, inadvertently caught up in a terrible crime. I think this is a wise move; they, after all, form the crux of the story.

Top of the bill, therefore, are soap favourites Adam Woodyatt and Gaynor Faye, as Tom and Kellie Bryce. They enjoy an affluent, suburban life. Tom works; Kellie cleans a lot; their teenage sons, Joe and Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson), are – respectively – in Venezuela climbing mountains and on the sofa listening to silence through NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES. Did you get that? NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES. I’ll mention them again anyway, just in case. (Director Jonathan O’Boyle is clearly a fan of Chekhov’s, holding dear the great playwright’s principle: if, in the first act a character has worn noise cancelling headphones, then in the following act, someone must fail to hear something important.) It all seems fine and dandy until a stranger leaves a memory stick on Tom’s commuter train. Tom makes the rash decision to bring it home; he plans to play the good Samaritan by tracking down its owner and ensuring its return. However, when Max plugs the stick into Tom’s computer, it reveals a link… to a murder. Happening in real time before their eyes. What have they been witness to? And what will the killer do when he realises he’s been seen?

Woodyatt and Faye inhabit their characters convincingly, and I especially enjoy Ian Haughton’s performance as the enigmatic Kent. I like Sergeant Branson (Leon Stewart)’s bad jokes, and the way Grace responds to them; this shift in tone works well to undercut some of the more histrionic scenes. The way Michael Holt’s set design incorporates the villain’s lair as well as the Bryces’ home is ingenious, and I am especially impressed with the decisive way the lighting is used to move us from one to the other at the flick of a switch.

There are some issues though – and the main one is the plot. Quite frankly, it’s risible. I’m more than happy to suspend my disbelief, but this stretches the elastic beyond its capacity. I’m unconvinced by any of the characters’ motivations, and am aghast at the ineptitude of the police, who keep politely agreeing to step outside so that suspected serial killers can have a private chat. And why exactly does everyone keep talking and revealing secrets in a room they’ve been told, quite clearly, is bugged? And why exactly exactly is it being bugged in the first place?

In addition, the police station set seems clumsy in comparison to the slick kitchen/lair: it’s pushed on and pulled off with wearisome regularity, and is so small that the actors seem constrained by it. There’s no space for movement, and they lean and perch awkwardly as they deliver their lines. I’m not a fan of the bigger action scenes either; the direction here just isn’t dynamic or fleet-footed enough.

So yes, there are problems. But do I enjoy myself? Yes, I do. Looking Good Dead might be silly but it’s entertaining, and I am more than happy to be back in the environs of the lovely King’s Theatre.

3 stars

Susan Singfield