United Kingdom Peter James’s Trying Good Lifeless: Palace Theatre, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, 14.3.2022. (JPr)
Adaptation – Shaun McKenna
Director – Jonathan O’Boyle
Designer – Michael Holt
Lighting designer – Jason Taylor
Composer and Sound designer – Max Pappenheim
Adam Woodyatt – Tom Bryce
Laurie Brett – Kellie Bryce
Natalie Boakye – Janie
Ian Houghton – Jonas Kent
Harry Lengthy – Roy Grace
Mylo McDonald – Mick
Leon Stewart – Glenn Branson
Gemma Stroyan – Bella Moy
Luke Ward-Wilkinson – Max Bryce
Let the writer Peter James himself introduce his personal story: ‘In Trying Good Lifeless, Tom Bryce is a businessman struggling to avoid wasting his enterprise and having to deal with a near-alcoholic spouse [Kellie] who can’t cease spending. Commuting house on the practice one night, he’s pushed nuts by a loud-mouthed man seated subsequent to him, who’s shouting into his cellphone on the high of his voice, issues like, ”I’M ON THE TRAIN!” The sort of annoying particular person we’ve all skilled at a while… To Tom’s reduction, when the practice stops at Preston Park, one station wanting his vacation spot, Brighton, Loudmouth will get off. However then Tom sees a USB reminiscence stick mendacity on the vacated seat, which he realises will need to have fallen out of the person’s pocket.’
Peter James might have written numerous bestsellers and had 4 beforehand tailored for the stage by Shaun McKenna, however I’ve to confess earlier than seeing Trying Good Lifeless I knew nothing of the writer nor of those diversifications. James’s detective who options in numerous his novels – and likewise on this play – is DS Roy Grace and while I used to be watching all of the twists and turns of Trying Good Lifeless the character did appear vaguely acquainted. Trying him up later I noticed that final yr I had watched the ITV model of Lifeless Easy – the primary guide in James’s collection concerning the Brighton-based Detective Superintendent – that they merely referred to as Grace and starred John Simm within the main function. I perceive there’ll extra episodes to be proven quickly together with Trying Good Lifeless (the second guide of many).
I believe if you recognize an excessive amount of about Grace from the books – and significantly when you’ve got learn Trying Good Lifeless – you would possibly discover this two-hour truncation just a little underwhelming. Basic crime thriller it might be however within the guide James will get extra time than McKenna to develop characters and scatter clues like a path of breadcrumbs via its a whole bunch of pages. Right here there’s a flurry of rat-a-tat brief scenes for the a number of characters with a number of exposition and, in truth, should you change off at any second you would possibly miss one thing essential. Additionally if anyone is launched into the story at a vital second within the play it’s prone to be greater than vital, particularly when an important piece of proof additionally then goes lacking which might – after all additionally might not – be a coincidence.
I’m making an attempt to keep away from any spoilers although I have to admit I had nice enjoyable understanding what was happening. Trying Good Lifeless is definitely not a number of the best theatre you will notice – and the plot however – it had greater than a touch, so I perceive, of what ‘weekly rep’ of final century might need been like. On returning house, Tom who’s virtually bankrupt asks his son Max – proven as a sometimes disgruntled teenager – to assist him see what’s on the USB. There’s a suggestion that he’s in search of one thing so he can get it again to the one who mislaid it, however we already get the thought Tom is looking for one thing he can benefit from. Max’s older half-brother Joe is speaking from Venezuela the place is his on a spot yr, however the youthful brother proves a whiz at cracking encrypted passwords. Tom and Max discover themselves watching a snuff film streaming reside hosted by a hooded man referred to as Mick (Mylo McDonald with an appalling Irish accent for which there’s an evidence on the finish of the play).
With a rip-off cellphone name the criminals uncover who has been watching after they shouldn’t have been and Tom is warned to not contain the police, although they quickly shall be after all. Joe tells Max to remain out of it and to let the police cope with every part, he additionally reveals he’ll come into cash quickly and assist Max escape from his suffocating homelife with Tom and Kellie. The police have already got on their arms the homicide of an escort (Janie, whose killing we’ve seen), in addition to that of a paedophile to cope with. American Jonas Kent (Ian Houghton) throws Tom a lifeline with a beautiful job for him that ought to save his bespoke operation from going below and entails gold Rolexes and plenty of cash. Into this combine come Scarab – aka dung – beetles and the stress ramps up when Kellie is kidnapped and the race is on to seek out her earlier than a brand new snuff movie goes on-line.
Michael Holt’s set design permits many of the motion to happen within the open plan dwelling room-kitchen of the Bryces’s house; while enabling there to be a desk on the entrance for brief scenes with Grace and the opposite two detectives; and with the assistance of some impressed backlighting (from Jason Taylor) we see a S&M dungeon for the homicide and different moments of menace to occur on a raised platform behind the primary set. The latter could be very cleverly carried out to counsel we’re viewing issues on a display screen just like the characters generally do.
Aside from panto, Adam Woodyatt – a stalwart of EastEnders for 36 years – appears to have carried out little ‘correct’ theatre and he brings to Tom lots of the cheeky chappy and quick-to-anger qualities we’ve seen from Woodyatt prior to now, and he’s no roughly plausible than any of the opposite characters in Trying Good Lifeless. Tom genuinely does appear as if he needs to do every part initially to avoid wasting his enterprise and a disintegrating marriage. In the end, why he doesn’t completely crumble when it seems as if his spouse – except he can provide you with an enormous ransom – would be the subsequent sufferer of the criminals requires you to see the play or, I suppose, learn the unique guide.
Laurie Brett impresses because the highly-strung, OCD cleansing, secret vodka-drinking, compulsively spending Kellie who will show stronger and extra resilient than she initially seems. She is convincing throughout her offended exchanges with Woodyatt, and these inform of their years collectively on EastEnders when Brett performed his spouse Jane.
Luke Ward-Wilkinson is nice because the truculent teen Max along with his penchant for noise-cancelling headphones to assist him keep away from turning into embroiled in his dad and mom’ rows. Tom is slightly feckless and self-absorbed to start with, but he performs a vital half because the plot reaches its conclusion.
Definitely Harry Lengthy’s Grace doesn’t carry any of the emotional baggage that’s there within the books, I imagine. I needed Lengthy to be extra charismatic, but he makes Grace a peaceful and guaranteed presence at coronary heart of the motion; although oddly, he isn’t actually central in bringing all of it to a conclusion. He engages in a number of entertaining banter – and a number of other corny jokes – along with his fellow detectives DI Glenn Branson (Leon Stewart) and DC Bella Moy (Gemma Stroyan) who don’t have that a lot to do with the plot both aside from just a few essential discoveries to maneuver issues alongside.
For a lot of within the viewers the ending of Trying Good Lifeless might not come as a shock – these shall be Peter James’s loyal readers – however since I’m not one among them there was a genuinely shocking twist that even I didn’t see coming, although I had labored out a lot of what was happening alongside the best way. So that’s sufficient for me to extremely suggest Trying Good Lifeless as one thing to see at your native theatre whether it is nonetheless on its method to you.