by Ben Soton
If you are a fan of EastEnders, you may be wondering what Adam Woodyatt (aka Ian Beale) has been up to then head to the theatre. He has been starring in the stage adaptation of the Peter James novel Looking Good Dead. In the play Woodyatt plays Tom Bryce, a fifty something business man with financial problems; not a million miles from his usual role of Ian Beale. Although many actors are typecast Woodyatt doesn’t do a bad job in either role. Looking Good Dead also features James’ creation Roy Grace, played by Harry Long. Many of James’ novels contain the back story of the search for Grace’s missing wife; although this does not feature in this stage play. In fact, in this stage adaptation the villain takes a more central role.
Another recurring theme of James’ novels is the anxiety faced by those people referred to as middle-class. In Looking Good Dead Bryce owns a company that in his words provides bespoke services to the wealthy. In other words, he runs errands for rich people they can’t be bothered to do themselves; in a world where rich people can usually employ underlings to do things for them. I almost laughed out loud when a mysterious wealthy American turns up at Bryce’s home asking him to buy a dozen Rolex watches for some of his employees; something that would normally be done by a personal assistant. Meanwhile Bryce has an alcoholic wife, Kelly (played by Gaynor Faye) whose best friend is his credit card. Bryce’ world is caving in upon him until one fateful day when he finds a memory stick on a train.
The play’s opening scene includes a prostitute in sado-masochistic attire; a reference to the sex industry in Peter James’ home town of Brighton where most of his novels are set. It later transpires that the young woman was in fact a student struggling to pay tuition fees. Meanwhile the play includes imaginative use of stage scenery where the set incorporates a dungeon, Bryce’s living room and a police control room which slides in and out when needed.
An enjoyable production which manages to combine crime with an element of social commentary. Between now and October Looking Good Dead will be playing at Salford, Nottingham, Glasgow, Dartford, Milton Keynes, Sheffield, Malvern, Leeds, Woking, Swindon, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Brighton and Norwich.