Review: Looking Good Dead @ The Lyceum, Sheffield

The world premiere stage production of Peter James’ novel Looking Good Dead is currently playing at the Lyceum theatre, and we sent reviewer Amy Tingle along to check out the the Adam Woodyatt fronted mystery.

Peter James afficionados will be familiar with the story of ‘Looking Good Dead’, the second book in his Roy Grace detective series and the fifth to be adapted for the stage, this time by Shaun McKenna.

The books are fairly typical of the modern-day crime thriller genre: lots of short chapters which switch from character to character and are generally paced somewhere between express Ferrari and runaway train. If you’re a fan, you can’t put them down but if you’re not, you’ll probably have a pretty good idea you’re not, pretty quickly.

It’s a style that’s not necessarily easy to capture on stage – certainly when compared to the big screen – where constant scene changes would be a distraction and therefore the pacing needs to be a little slower as the action unfolds in a more measured style. So top marks to director Jonathan O’Boyle and the backstage team for how they handled things here.

Adam Woodyatt (Ian Beale to most readers) takes centre stage as Tom Bryce – frayed husband to Kellie, played by Gaynor Faye (Emmerdale) and teenage son Max (Luke Ward-Williamson), who comes home one day with a memory stick, pops it in his laptop and witnesses something truly shocking. Like any good citizen, he reports it to the police and inadvertently puts himself and his family in grave danger.

It takes the two leads a few scenes to warm to their task – perhaps the hiatus we’ve all had from live theatre has led to a little rustiness – but as the plot thickens and the twists and turns unravel – so too they become more at home. By the curtain call, Woodyatt in particular is beaming so much at the audience acclaim and being back in the theatre once again, I had to double-check this wasn’t his first appearance of the tour. Maybe that’s what a lifetime working on Eastenders does to you.

The staging was excellent, with most of the action captured in a static living room setting at the front – with occasional changes to take us to the police station – while the sordid action on Bryce’s laptop screen filtered through at the back of stage.

At first, I wasn’t overly sure treating Grace (the hero of the book) and sidekick Glenn Branson (played by Harry Long and Leon Stewart) as the light relief was quite right, but as their performances came through, I was quick to change my mind. One fellow theatre-goer – herself a big Peter James fan – was insistent that Branson was particularly close to the character she’d imagined reading the books.

And things clearly improved as the pace quickened and the action unfolded. Yes, I’d unpicked a couple of the biggest revelations before they arrived (my husband always calls me ‘Poirot’ as I have a bit of a knack for these things!) and by the end I was completely drawn in and on my feet.

I’m not a Peter James fan and having watched the recent TV adaption of Dead Simple starring John Simm, I hadn’t particularly felt like I was missing out. But after 150 minutes back in the theatre, I’m ready to give one of his books a go.

Looking Good Dead is at the Lyceum Theatre until 28 August. Tickets and more info available from sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

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