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BWW Review: NOT DEAD ENOUGH, Richmond Theatre

Not Dead Enough is the third novel by best-selling crime writer Peter James to be adapted by Shaun McKenna and directed by Ian Talbot. Brighton socialite Katie Bishop is found raped and murdered in gruesome circumstances. The evidence points to her husband Brian, who claims to have been asleep in his flat in London at the time. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace is called in to investigate, but the evidence is not quite what it seems and the body count starts to rise.

James's books may all be very popular due to their gripping storylines, but McKenna's stage adaptation is much less successful. If you're familiar with the books, you might think differently, but for those new to the work, the story development is clunky with little character growth or tangible suspense.

No spoilers here, but those waiting for the inevitable story twist will find it fairly absurd when it comes, and the distinct lack of gripping tension is frustrating. There is also discomfort in the seeming necessity for murder mystery writers to base yet another story on sexual violence against women. Surely it's time for an alternative narrative?

It is some of the acting that saves this production from total disaster. Shane Richie is a great choice for the role of Roy Grace and deserves more depth to his character. He is very comfortable on stage and is the most natural of all the actors. He shows a real human side as the detective trying to be professional, while still haunted by the disappearance of his own wife 10 years before.

Gemma Stroyan is strong as Grace's colleague Bella Moy and Michael Quartey provides some quick humour as sidekick Glenn Branson. Television presenter Laura Whitmore makes her theatrical debut as love interest Cleo Morey and seems a little exposed. She spends far too much time gesticulating manically or having her hands coyly stuck to her hips.

Stephen Billington makes the most of his role as suspected murderer Brian Bishop, but the possible interesting twists in his character are not given time or space to be fully explored.

Michael Holt's design is cleverly set on two levels, giving Director Ian Talbot the chance to show the audience overlapping scenes. The shifting between the mortuary, police station and even the sea front are smooth and convincing. This is aided by Jason Taylor's lighting, which complements the changing scenes well.

Martin Hodgson's sound design is less successful. In the first act, the use of music and sound builds a more subtle suspense, but by the second act, it is much more drama by numbers.

There is some very solid acting in this production, with glimpses of the tension that you need and expect from a murder mystery, but it's let down by a lack of character development and solid plot narrative. It should be enthralling and it is anything but.

Not Dead Enough is at Richmond Theatre until 18 March

Photo Credit: Mark Douet

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