King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – until 29 April 2017
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
Quincy meets Crossroads as the latest adaptation of a Peter James thriller, Not Dead Enough, hits the King’s Theatre. Literally. There’s a killer on the loose in Brighton. Wealthy Katie Bishop has been murdered in her home, surrounded by the trappings of an S&M game. Can police detective Roy Grace and his team prove husband Brian did it? How is this killing connected to an old case? What does the slayer’s signature message, Because You Loved Her, mean? Whatever happened to Roy’s long-missing wife Sandy? And will the actors get through the play without set and props killing them?
It has to be noted that this thriller had unscripted moments that added to the excitement of the evening: the gurney that wouldn’t roll onto the playing area; the bouncing gas mask; the collapsing police desk; a smoke monster straight out of Lost, and more.
The moment Laura Whitmore, as feisty pathologist Cleo Morey, handcuffed to a chair and pushed forward by the killer, looked about to fly headfirst into the audience was, well, pretty splendid actually. Her antagonist calmly stopped her flight without missing a beat. That’s class.
As an alternative title for Not Dead Enough, it would be a little too hard to call it Carry on…. Columbo, but you do wonder what happened at the technical rehearsal. Never mind though, the wee mishaps served to show what a committed bunch of actors the show has – I didn’t spot a single instance of corpsing.
But corpses aplenty there are, with the first – a woman fished out of the sea – providing a splendid shock moment early on. There are a couple of other points that demonstrate just how engaged audience members are with the play, producing audible oooohs of anticipation and excitement. And when the climactic, brazenly bonkers revelations arrive, those who love to second, and even third, guess the plot points felt rather satisfied.
Roy Grace is an attractive creation, a cop open to using any means necessary when it comes to solving a case – if it takes a psychic to catch a psycho, that’s fine by him. Usually. The gimmick is waved away with one line in this story, one of more than a dozen in which he stars – the police work is straightforward, with most of it being done by the super-useful Bella Moy, played by the excellent Gemma Stroyan. Grace himself spends much of his time snogging Cleo, while glib sidekick Glenn Branson (a game Michael Quartey) is the very definition of ‘overpromoted’.
As Grace, Bill Ward is thoroughly likeable, even when Shaun McKenna’s script has him suddenly forget he was desperately haunted by the loss of Sandy two seconds earlier. He leads the cast with a commendably light gravitas, and hopefully he’ll come back for more James adaptations (the last real Grace to grace Edinburgh was Gray O’Brien in 2015 with Dead Simple, although Benjamin Wilkin was a younger, DC Grace, shoehorned into The Perfect Murder).
Whitmore, a TV presenter who gained new fans with Strictly Come Dancing last year, is making her professional theatrical debut. She’s doesn’t quite manage to nail a scene in which jealousy towards the ‘ghost’ of Sandy threatens her relationship with Grace, but overall does a good job, her unstoppable charm carrying her over the odd bump.
Stephen Billington – another Corrie veteran – is initially stiffer than his character’s dead wife, but he soon warms up, and by the final scenes is having enormous fun, and taking us with him – think a theatrical version of the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil, and double it.
The set is a bit of a headscratcher. Three playing areas – police cell, detectives’ den and mortuary – share the stage at all times, with lighting telling us where to look. The open-plan nature makes for awkward transitions as actors approach or leave the cell, walking in front of their prisoner to use the door at the side when they may as well just step right in.
Recorded music that shows up occasionally to yell ‘TENSION!’, meanwhile, feels more artificial than helpful.
But despite the awkward moments, the production blips – or perhaps because of them, this IS live theatre, folks – Not Dead Enough is bags of fun. James’ story is as daring as it is daft, playing so fair with the audience that Agatha Christie would approve.
The actors under the direction of Ian Talbot are tight enough to sell the drama and paper over the occasional moment of misjudged tone. And, vitally, this thriller does have real thrills. Not Dead Enough isn’t perfect, but if you could murder a fun show, you could do a lot worse.