Review – Looking Good Dead, Orchard Theatre, Dartford ****

Peter James’ Brighton-based detective Roy Grace has recently found life on screen. In this stage version, though, the focus is on the subject of the crime Tom Bryce, played by Adam Woodyatt. He returns home having found a memory stick left by a fellow train passenger and decides to look at it and identify its owner in order to return it.

As ever, this apparent good dead results in all kinds of trouble for Tom, his spendthrift and alcoholic wife Kellie (played by Woodyatt’s former EastEnders ons-screen wife Laurie Brett) and their teenage son Max. This is because on viewing the contents of the stick they discover it leads them into a dark world of sadistic live-streamed videos.

Woodyatt and Brett are great together, brilliantly conveying the ups and downs of a sometimes fraught marriage. And Luke Ward-Wilkinson does a superb job of the classic teenager but who has his own secrets which are gradually revealed. The story unfolds in a such a way that we are fairly sure we know where things are headed for quite a long time. This is a combination of the writing and the clever playing of Tom by Woodyatt, whose character we perhaps think we know better than we really do because of our long experience of Woodyatt’s other character of Ian Beale. In the second act things take some very unexpected turns so all I would say is, beware of making any assumptions.

The staging is novel in that the scenes in the live streaming video appear on a raised stage at the back of the set, only revealed by lighting changes but cleverly dominating the smart Bryce home in the foreground. The police action is somewhat sidelined and certainly would not lead you to think of Roy Grace as the next Hercule Poirot.

The combination, though, of assured performances from Woodyatt and Brett and a thoroughly captivating plot result in a crowd-pleasing evening which I am sure wrong-footed most of those in the audience who thought they’d got it all worked out.

Looking Good Dead is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford until Saturday 5 March 2022 and then continues on tour.