Looking Good Dead

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

There’s a real appetite for crime dramas currently. From Netflix to the BBC, there’s always something new within this genre to thrill and enthral audiences. ‘Looking Good Dead’ is the crime drama audiences are craving, live on stage.

Peter James is known as WH Smith’s ‘Best Crime Author of all time’; his 2006 novel ‘Looking Good Dead’ reached No2 in the Sunday Times paperback best seller list. It’s clear to see why as you unpick the story.

The story centres around the Bryce family: a typical family from Brighton, with your regular family squabbles, moody teenagers and standard day to day life – but their lives turn from the everyday to the sinister with one phone call. Tom Bryce (Adam Woodyatt) and son Max (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) inadvertently witness a murder after finding a USB stick on a train. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (Harry Long) steps in to try and crack the case in time to save the family’s lives.

With a star-studded cast including Adam Woodyatt as Tom, best known for playing Ian Beale in ‘Eastenders’, and a recent stint on 2021’s ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’. Adam is joined by fellow soap actress Gaynor Faye as his wife Kellie, who recently starred in The BBC’s ‘The Syndicate’.

The staging is brilliant, with a modern house acting as the main focus where most of the action unfolds. Divided by a sheer cloth, behind the house of the Bryce family lies an ominous warehouse setting complete with steel beams and chains. Completing the set is a movable police office which joins the stage with its own soundtrack music, further adding to that typical BBC crime drama atmosphere of the play.

The first act did take some time to develop into the gripping drama it became, filling the majority of the act with steamily unnecessary scenes and information. However, as the second act opens, we’re immediately thrust into the crime drama etiquettes, audiences know and love.

The second act was filled with twists and turns, the climax of which leaving unfamiliar audiences with a shocking revelation. One thing that is missed from the magic of television and filming within this genre is the use of clever and creeping camera angles that build suspense, unfortunately an element live theatre just cannot provide, leaving some of the more suspenseful moments lacking flair.

The action scenes, which were few and far between consisted of lacklustre punches and tackles which could be further refined and dramatic, however the strength of the plot and its surprise moments carried the play.

The adaptation from novel to stage did miss the mark in some places, with cheesy jokes (which to be fair did produce chuckles from the audience) and often over-descriptive dialogue which weren’t inspiring in a theatrical setting.

Although maybe not as dark and serious as many of the crime dramas around today, ‘Looking Good Dead’ still makes for an enjoyable piece of theatre that can definitely appeal to crime-drama-genre lovers.

You can catch ‘Looking Good Dead’ at The Lowry Theatre in Salford until Saturday 22nd January tickets available here.

Band of Gold

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Kay Mellor’s ground-breaking drama was a huge success when it first hit TV screens back in 1995. 25 years on the action has been relocated from screen to stage while still taking its inspiration from the lives and experiences of the Northern sex workers who in order to make ends meet work ‘the lane’.

The story focuses on Gina (Sacha Parkinson), a young mother who gets drawn into the world of sex work in order to provide for her daughter and pay off ruthless loan shark Mr Moore (Joe Mallalieu). Things take a tragic turn one evening while working the lane and its down to her fellow workers to deal with the fallout while continuing to face multiple battles of their own.

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Fans of the TV series will be pleased to know that this newly developed play doesn’t sway too much from the gritty style of the much-loved TV series with Mellor’s clever wit even in the darkest of moments shining through. Her writing allows the audience glimpses of the humanity and heart of her characters while offering a fascinating insight into their working world and the dangers contained within.

Through Mellor’s multi-layered script the individual stories of the main four female leads intertwine to create a dramatic piece which draws you in and keeps you guessing. Each character feels authentic and is honestly delivered by a strong cast made up primarily of Laurie Brett (Anita), Gaynor Faye (Rose), Sacha Parkinson (Gina) and Emma Osman (Carol) each giving a convincing and real performance.

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The ladies are strongly supported by several male characters with Kieron Richardson, Shayne Ward, Andrew Dunn, Steve Garti, Joe Mallalieu and Mark Sheals all showing a high level of skill if some are a little underused. Special mention must also go to Olwen May as Gina’s mother Joyce, her heartfelt emotion feels painfully raw and is delivered with real conviction.

While Mellor’s blend of tragedy and dark humour is delivered with sensitivity there are occasions when it feels like the piece would have benefitted from holding the dramatic tension for longer rather than so often going for the laugh or quickly changing scene; at times the audience laugh at situations which would have held more impact if characters were allowed more time to breathe. While the quick pace keeps the tension high it does result in a lack of opportunity to connect with the characters on a more emotional level.

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This re-invention of Band of Gold will entertain both fans of the original TV series and those coming to it for the first time. It also feels timely as we live through continued austerity with many women struggle to provide for their families and the sad reality that there are more sex workers now than when the original stories were penned. An engaging piece of theatre delivered by a solid cast.

Band of Gold is on at the Lowry until Saturday 25th January tickets available here.