Review: Looking Good Dead's a good-looking dud on the Belgrade stage

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Looking Good Dead at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett as Tom and Kellie Bryce
Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett as Tom and Kellie Bryce

Snuff movies are back in fashion!

That’s the premise behind Peter James’s thriller, Looking Good Dead, adapted for the stage by veteran playwright Shaun McKenna. The once notorious real live action murder genre is at the heart of the plot of this predictable crime caper, in which EastEnders stars Adam Woodyatt and Laurie Brett as Tom and Kellie Bryce become involved with a gang who make shed loads of money from a dubious offshoot of the porn industry.

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Tom finds a memory stick on a train, left behind by a particularly obnoxious passenger. Curious, he and his geeky son Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) open it, only to find it gives a direct link to this subscribers-only website, where for a hefty fee you can experience the full blood and gore. Only, here onstage, the blood and gore are severely tempered, so we get a hint of the S&M scene but nothing like the real thing.

Just as well. You probably wouldn’t want to experience that. But this is thin stuff, with an ‘Oirish’ baddie called, wait for it, Mick (Mylo McDonald) rattling the chains and manipulating the internet-based technologies that allow him to get right into the Bryce’s happy home, so that the watched are also the watchers. The Bryces are by no means a model family even before the events which tear them apart. Tom and Kellie are deeply in debt, a fact which has no little bearing on the outcome of the plot.

The play has its good points. It is well acted and staged. Max is an endearing lad, whose noise-cancelling headphones play a pivotal role and sort of symbolise the nature of his family’s relationships where no-one seems to be listening anymore. There is a twist at the end to the play, which I won’t reveal of course, just in case you fancy finding out for yourself.

I’m not a fan of the sort of TV crime thriller that seems always to begin with a woman being brutally abused and to involve all the usual tropes, such as the plodding cops, here led by DS Roy Grace (Harry Long), the wealthy and well-connected Mr Big (Ian Houghton), and the not so innocent minor character. The trick which they all aim for, and some succeed in pulling off, is to make the familiar unfamiliar, so that there is a slight frisson of believable danger behind the comfy format. The spice seems to come in the form of ever more ingenious variations in the violence, usually threatened or perpetrated against women and children. When it works it does so by virtue of the psychology of the hunters and the hunted and the way they interact and function within the setting, which ideally is beautiful and remote. None of these virtues are present in this predictable, shallow caper.

* Looking Good Dead runs until March 12. Visit www.belgrade.co.uk or call 024 7655 3055 to book