Peter James’ “Not Dead Enough” is playing at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh this week and, as usual, the audience of The King’s love their murder, mystery and suspense – the theatre is packed. This is the stage adaptation of the third book by Peter James in the DS Roy Grace series (book originally published May 20007) adapted by award winning writer Shaun McKenna and directed by Olivier award winner Ian Talbot.
Reviewing any murder/mystery performance is always difficult as the last thing you want to do in your review is give away too much of the plot and spoil the show for anyone still to go to see the production, and that is particularly true in this one as the plot takes many twists and turns along the way, and that plot dictates how much depth I can go into with some characters in this review.
If you are one of the legion of fans that Peter James has reading his books, then you will probably have read “Not Dead Enough” anyhow, and know what happens in the book, but that is never the same as watching the story unfold in another format, so there still may be some surprises here for you. I have not read any of the books, only some online synopsis, and that does bring along one issue common to all evolving story arc books – I am not familiar with the backgrounds of these characters and references to other characters, but this is a skilfully written adaptation and running stories and characters such as DS Roy Grace’s missing wife (for over 10 years at this point) are well explained and you need that explanation to understand the personal dynamics of the characters here.
Our cast are all on very good form here, the acting is tight and the script is just one of those that most actors probably dream of getting the chance to work on. On the surface of it this is a simple case. Brian Bishop (Stephen Billington) has murdered his wife, but he was sixty miles away, asleep in bed. At least that’s what he claims, and DS Roy Grace (Bill Ward) has to decide if he is dealing with a very good liar or someone with a very big personality disorder issue. Running along as a side plot to his professional life is Roy Grace’s private life and his relationship with mortician Cleo Morey (Laura Whitmore). Weaving its way into both areas is his missing wife, and that has consequences both private and professional.
This is a very story driven piece of work and through the very good use of stage space, we always have three sets on stage. Careful lighting allows us to switch from one to another when needed, and at times, multiple sets are in use allowing us the very clever way of being able to tell different strands of the story at the same time. This is a very police procedural story, and takes place either in police offices or the mortuary, and although that might sound to some as rather dull, skilled performances by Michael Quartey (Glenn Branson), Gemma Atkins (Sophie Harington) and Gemma Stroyan (Bella Moy) bring our central characters to life, and here is also a lot of dry humour in this story that brings relief to the police procedures. For readers of the Peter James books, there are also some nice little touches here, such as Bella Moy’s box of Maltesers.
“Not Dead Enough” is one of the best murder/mystery works I have seen performed in theatre, and tight acting, script, lighting and stage direction took many gasps from the audience tonight.
Normally, I like to explore the relationships between characters in a review a lot more than this, but if I do it in this review, it will unravel the plot a little too much as much of what is driving this story is these relationships, and it is the surprises that make this performance what it is – story telling at its theatrical best that just pulls you as a member of the audience into a story in a way that only theatre can do…once you start to hear this story being told, you simply want to sit, watch and find out what the next bit of it is going to be.
Review by Tom King