‘Looking Good Dead’, based on the novel by Peter James, is not your standard crime thriller. Instead of choosing to focus on the detectives investigating a gruesome murder (as most police dramas would do), this play chooses to focus on the innocents caught up in events beyond their control. Or are they as innocent as they seem…?
The play focuses on struggling businessman Tom (Adam Woodyatt), who finds a memory stick on a train and decides to try to trace the owner. When investigating the contents of the memory stick with his son Max (understudy Mylo McDonald), he makes a shocking discovery that is set to change his life forever. Also caught up in events is his wife Kellie (Laurie Brett) and banker Mr Kent (Ian Houghton).
The play is based on the Roy Grace novels, but Grace himself (played by Harry Long) seems to take a backseat, and for those unfamiliar with the character, he is just your standard detective, with very little character beyond the occasionally funny one-liners. Grace’s team, made up of Glenn Branson (Leon Stewart) and Bella Moy (Gemma Stroyan) also add little to the play beyond moving the plot along.
The play chooses to focus on Tom’s family, and I believe this works in the play’s favour, making us care about the family at the centre of this gruesome string of murders, which makes certain reveals towards the end of the play even more shocking for the audience. At one moment, there was an audible gasp from the audience as the true villain of the piece was revealed.
Woodyatt was well cast as Tom, and played the part well, making the audience feel his frustration as nothing ever seemed to quite go his way. Brett, as his wife Kellie, seemed to struggle occasionally with the script – in particular, one moment where she was meant to be “frightened” at an intruder in her house had the audience giggling rather than tense. McDonald as son Max initially seemed to be miscast, but this was due to the fact that he was an understudy, and despite looking too old for the part, he played the part relatively well.
The staging was very clever, with the main part of the stage set out as Tom’s living room/kitchen, with the detective headquarters sliding on at appropriate times for some minor “aside” scenes. The videos that were found on the laptop were acted out in the background rather than being shown as a projection – the back wall became transparent, revealing a hidden aspect to the set, and allowing for smooth transitions between two unconnected locations. This was very well thought out, and meant that scenes effortlessly flowed into each other, with no pauses to destroy the tension.
Overall, this was a well-written play that kept the audience guessing until the last minute. A very well-thought out plot that makes me keen to see more adaptations of Peter James’ novels.
‘Looking Good Dead’ is currently touring the UK. For more information, visit the website: https://www.peterjames.com/plays/looking-good-dead/
Tom Morley, March 2022