Sex and murder, a killer combination for a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat play…or so you’d think.
Author Peter James is carving a bit of a niche in the market for having his best-selling crime novels translated into successful stage productions.
We all enjoyed The Perfect Murder, with its skillful blend of dark humour and suspense as a husband and wife tried to do each other in. His follow-up, Dead Simple, was also a big hit. Audiences began to think they’d found a successor to Agatha Christie.
But his third Roy Grace outing, Not Dead Enough, which launched its UK tour last week and pitched up at Milton Keynes Theatre last night, is a profound disappointment on all sorts of levels.
The objectification of women, sexism and misogyny is breath-taking. It’s hard to believe that James only wrote this five years ago because it has the feel of a pulp fiction novel from the 1960s/ ’70s.
Back in the unenlightened, dark ages books and films routinely pigeon-holed pretty young women as damsels in distress, an attractive bit of fluff to be sacrificed and brutalised, all in the name of entertainment.
Hopefully they would be saved by a heroic Alpha male but, more often than not, we watched as they were raped, tortured and horribly dispatched. Haven’t we moved on since then?
Not Dead Enough is a procedural cop story that is slow, tedious, lazy and with a plot riddled with holes. You can spot the killer in the first two minutes yet we have to wait almost two hours before Shane Richie’s clueless cop, Det Supt Roy Grace and his sidekick, Glenn Branson, close the case.
Frequently, at last night’s opening, the audience were ahead of the action. Hell, most of us in the stalls could have written this formulaic plodder.
But perhaps, as a former crime reporter who has covered more than her fair share of murders, rapes and robberies and spent nearly 40 years being in the company of cops of all ranks, I’m being too hard on the production.
But what is not easy to overlook was the poor sound, the lack-lustre performances, the forgotten lines, the lack of characterisation, the awkward set design, the gloomy lighting and intrusive music.
The stage was split into four rooms (if you count the invisible corridor at the front of stage) and just didn’t work as well in this show as it had in the other two productions.
Most of the action took place in a mortuary that was at the back of the stage. Because the floor was miked we heard, with perfect clarity, Richie moving his feet and shuffling about in an office chair, but everyone’s dialogue was muffled and distant.
Director Ian Talbot accompanied cliff-hanger scenes with somber, atmospheric music which almost..almost..went “De-dah!” to emphasise the tension.
Most of the time the stage was so dark, with the now oh so fashionable smoke billowing across the stage, that it was difficult to see what was happening.
Richie seemed most at home sharing banter with Branson (Michael Quartey) but he lacked direction at other times. Perhaps it was opening night nerves but lines were repeated or forgotten. There were also pauses and a general lack of fluidity with the cast’s interaction.
The production is very rough around the edges and needs polishing. It would certainly have benefited from more rehearsal time ahead of last week’s opening.
But, ultimately, the fault must lie with James and, perhaps his adaptor, Shaun McKenna, for coming up with such a dated and weak story that lacked the charisma of the previous two productions.
We get to learn next to nothing about any of the characters and, consequently, couldn’t care less whether they end up on the mortuary slab.
Former Corrie bad boy, Stephen Billington, holds your attention throughout with a generally well-measured performance although he uses a rather dubious accent in one scene.
But the women – Laura Whitmore, Gemma Atkins and Charlotte Sutherland – are there to be used and abused, nothing more than pretty distractions who are given no opportunity to make any impact on the story.
James should be ashamed of himself. Not Dead Enough is just Not Good Enough for me.
Not Dead Enough is on at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday then touring.
Not Dead Enough
Crime novelist Peter James produces a disappointing third stage thriller with Not Dead Enough, a slow and predictable plodder of a whodunit.