FringeReview UK 2017
A DS Roy Grace tale starring Shane Ritchie who appeared in the revival of The Perfect Murder in 2015, Not Dead Enough is directed by Ian Talbot with a neat tripartite design by Michael Holt and ghoulishly lit by Jason Taylor. It’s Shaun McKenna’s third adaptation of Peter James’ crime novels from his third (2007) updated and with its end refashioned. Produced by Joshua Andrews and Peter James in Association with Paul Tyrer & Jamie Clark for TBO Productions and Ambassadors Theatre Group. Till Saturday February 18.
Shaun McKenna’s third adaptation of Peter James’ crime novels reaches his 2007 Not Dead Enough updated and with its end refashioned. A DS Roy Grace tale starring Shane Ritchie who appeared in the revival of The Perfect Murder in 2015, it’s directed by Ian Talbot with a neat tripartite design by Michael Holt and ghoulishly lit by Jason Taylor – whether morgue, police offices or the suggestion of sea-front it’s a tenebrous affair.
The most attractive element in this adaptation is humour. It’s grained throughout the Roy Grace novels, but more’s made of it here. There’s a (yes very) funny episode of the first corpse wheeled in, not part of a grisly tally, and much is made of the second time a phone rings from inside a morgue cabinet, of course different from the comedy of the first. That kind.
Richie’s layered and occasionally skewed avuncularity brings a troubled warmth to Grace, a baffled tenderness. Michael Quartey as Richie’s sidekick Glenn Branson enjoys a badinage that bounces off like ping-pong balls; Quartey’s neat skewerings and marital troubles register an octave up from Richie’s. Gemma Stroyan as researcher Bella Moy lobs in an occasional bat. It’s the most palpable revelation of character and the most likeable in an evening that can often move with the speed of a morgue trolley though with a sudden clang, slam your expectations.
We’ve already had Charlotte Sutherland dragged off behind the curtains as prelude, and the investigation follows this woman’s murder where the chief suspect her husband was sleeping sixty miles away in Brighton. The DNA says one thing, Grace who thinks another is reminded of a murder ten years ago and is haunted by his wife’s disappearance at the same time. ‘Because You Love Her’ is challengingly written on or near the bodies. And there’s a little matter of mortician recruit Sophie played by Gemma Atkins with true winsome appeal, choosing the wrong man in an ardent gust. She’s not the only woman on the premises to do so it transpires.
Her natural confident Laura Whitmore’s chief mortician Cleo Morey isn’t being told. And she has Roy Grace’s ghostly wife to contend with, being in love with Grace herself. Whitmore makes her professional stage debut with this role; it’s clear her student awards mean something and it’s not Whitmore’s fault that it’d take more experience to bring this character to the dimensions Richie’s Grace hints at, because she’s denied that inwardness.
McKenna makes neat use of James’ police procedure which injects real excitement in breakthrough moments and it’s the intimacy then claustrophobia of this setting that works best in this sombre-paced routine. Grace himself is the object of long burning revenge, but not the only one. It’s not the Assault on Precinct 13 but the notion of police station as haven and threatened by invasive forces is palpable enough.
You’d expect the husband under suspicion – Stephen Billington – to display identity or even identities. Billington in fact is allowed an amplitude only lent to Richie, and revels in it even if each variant is necessarily one-note. Nothing is as it seems and though McKenna has telescoped and shifted the ending as such, the plot as presented falls apart in impossibilities. James is praised for exceptional plotting and vital elements – perhaps mere moments – are missing. It makes for a thrilling if improbable ending. Go read the book.
James does write extensively too of sociopathic and psychopathic as if interchangeable, though very real differences exist: the sociopath is partly conditioned with an acquired lack of empathy even redeemable in part. The psychopath truly lacks empathy, like a piece of humanity missing, it’s suggested through chemical imbalance. The best they can be is a CEO, even of a country. The worst are those James has set out to meet in prisons.
This was James’s night, a homecoming to the stage he used to fantasize having a play put on at. Invited on stage he movingly paid tribute to all in the production and wrung everyone’s hearts for his chosen police charity.