Cambridge Arts Theatre

This adaption of Peter James’ Looking Good Dead opens with a seemingly uncomplicated family of four, based in Brighton, whose living room set could be found in a coffee table book. Yet as soon as the lights dim and the dialogue begins, it becomes clear quite quickly that the Bryce family’s existence is far from comfortable.

The play begins with a middle-aged man, Tom Bryce, returning home from work, where his doting housewife, Kellie Bryce, is scrubbing away at an already-spotless kitchen. Not so spotless, however, is the sofa that their teenage son, Max, is sat on, dropping crumbs everywhere as he eats and types away on his laptop.

“As the saying goes, there’s always more than meets the eye”

The Bryces appear to be your run-of-the-mill middle class family. Tom, played by Adam Woodyatt, frets about his business, and expects a cup of tea and a peck on the cheek when he gets back from work from his wife. When Kellie, played by Waterloo Road’s Laurie Brett, isn’t cleaning countertops or scrubbing surfaces, she appears only to have one interest: spending her husband’s money. The pair like to tease their bored and irritable son Max, played by Luke Ward-Wilkinson, whose interest is limited to technology and escaping his parents: his intention to join his older brother, away in South America on his gap year, is made very clear from the beginning.

The illusion of normality is shattered, however, when Tom pulls out a USB stick out of his pocket, left behind by an obnoxious stranger on his train. His intention to return it to the owner changes rather rapidly once cracking the encryption on the code, achieved by Max, makes them both witness to a murder.

“The layers of lies and deception that unfold create an entertaining play-within-the-play”

Fast-forward, and the police are involved – in particular, Roy Grace, who serves as the protagonist of James’ wider series, as well as Branson and Bella. They’re keen to solve the case, but not without leaving time for a laugh. Of the three detectives, Gemma Stroyan delivered a particularly strong performance, navigating between Bella’s harder and softer sides with ease.


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Laurie Brett’s performance as Kellie was compelling, as was Adam Woodyatt’s as Tom. Together, they made a very convincing couple – perhaps a happy product of their famous on-screen marriage as Ian and Jane Beale in EastEnders. Ward-Wilkinson’s performance as their seventeen-year-old son, however, is generally unconvincing, and, at times, completely wooden. This isn’t helped by the writing occasionally swinging and missing at the register of a teenager, epitomised by a cringeworthy reference to the internet as “the net”. The final nail in the coffin of Ward-Wilkinson’s performance however, is the clear age differential between the character and the actor.

However, while these characters can seem two-dimensional, as the saying goes, there’s always more than meets the eye. Each of them have their own complexities and secrets that unravel slowly – then all at once.

Overall, Looking Good Dead was more lighthearted than it was thrilling, with plenty of comedic relief scattered throughout the script in the form of cheesy but self aware one-liners. The adaptation from page to stage created a relatively straightforward plot. However, that’s not to say the play was completely without intrigue: the layers of lies and deception that unfold create an entertaining play-within-the-play, with plenty of twists and turns to go around – but it was certainly no Agatha Christie.

The Cambridge Arts Theatre itself was a wonderfully intimate venue in which to watch the latest adaptation of a Peter James novel.

Looking Good Dead runs until Saturday 5th February at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.