When crime authors like Ian Rankin and Val McDermid sell squillions of books it seems odd producers insist on sending out creaky old stage versions of novels written in the middle of the last century.
So, thank God for Peter James who is another of those crime superstars – selling 21 million books of his Roy Grace novels worldwide – who has worked out there is an appetite for stage versions featuring the troubled south coast detective.
This time Grace is investigating a couple of bizarre murders that seem to be linked to the suburban Bryce family. It all starts when Father Tom brings home a memory stick he says he found on a train, which proves to contain something gruesome that puts his wife Kellie and teenage son Max in danger, and it’s up to Grace to solve it.
James acts as producer of this production keeping a close eye on his creation, and wisely he asked award winning writer Shaun Mckenna to adapt the fifth stage version of the Grace series. Adaptations are always tricky, but McKenna keeps the essence of the books, aided by Michael Holt’s clever staging switching from a living room through a cop shop to a dank warehouse.
As well as getting top class writers on board, Looking Good Dead features two of our best soap actors in Adam Woodyatt as Tom and local legend Gaynor Faye as Kellie.
Woodyatt in his 36 years as Eastender Ian Beale has endured every sort of disaster short of being abducted by aliens. He is clearly relishing his sabbatical from Albert Square offering a very assured and nuanced Tom. Dancing on Ice champion Faye was last seen in her hometown venue as Rose in the world premiere of Band of Gold and brings the same intensity and vulnerability to troubled Kellie.
Both the leads call on their years working on relentless serial dramas to make believable the struggles of Tom and Kellie as well as the clever plot twists James delights in delivering.
Ironically despite the mega sales Grace is something of a minor character in the stage version, and while Harry Long does a solid job, he never quite captures the investigator’s inner turmoil. Luke Ward-Wilkinson is a nicely sulky Max and newcomer Mylo McDonald is one to watch as a villain.
There might still be a place for posh people gathering in a drawing room on a creaky set to discuss murder, but the slick Looking Dead Good model should be a wake-up call to other modern crime big hitters to get their heroes out on the road too.
Looking Good Dead is at Leeds Grand until Saturday 11th September. To book 0113 243 0808 or visit https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/peter-james-looking-good-dead/
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 6th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★