I am not a die-hard fan of the crime thriller genre of novels; it is not that I don’t like crime novels but more that I am not really drawn towards them. Because of this I am not familiar with the work of multi-million selling author Peter James, so had no preconceived notions of how Not Dead Enough which I saw last night at The Bristol Hippodrome would play out. Adapted for the stage by award winning writer Shaun McKenna and directed by Olivier Award winner Ian Talbot, Not Dead Enough is the third novel in Peter James’ Roy Grace series. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (played by Eastenders favourite Shane Richie) is dealing with the mysterious disappearance of his wife ten years previously. He has finally allowed himself to begin to let go of her and is in a new relationship with Chief Mortuary Technician Cleo Morey (played by Laura Whitmore). They come together in their working life too, as DS Grace is called in to investigate the murder of Katie Bishop, a well-known local philanthropist. Katie’s husband Brian (played by Stephen Billington) claims he was sixty miles away from home on the night his wife was murdered, but things do not add up for DS Grace. As he digs deeper into the mystery, he begins to realise there may be connections with the disappearance of his wife and that love can be a very dangerous thing indeed…
So! Did this show convert me into being a crime thriller fan? Well, the cast are all equally strong and manage to move this narrative driven and over two hour long performance forward with ease. We were grateful for the interval in order to break some of the tension that had been built up in the first half! It is clear that the book must be well written and the storyline involving and engaging, and this stage adaption delivers on conveying that tension and the twists and turns of the story. I’ll admit that I guessed the main plot twist in the second half quite early on, which made the ending a little bit of an anti-climax. However, I could tell from the gasps of some of my fellow audience members when the big reveal occurred that the majority of the audience were clearly gripped from start to finish. Although I wasn’t as gripped, I enjoyed the story and found it entertaining enough.
With the calibre of the writer and with a big name draw like Shane Richie, this show is more than capable of drawing a big enough crowd to fill the Hippodrome. I couldn’t help feeling however, that it would have been better suited to a smaller venue. Due to the sheer size of the auditorium, the actors really needed to work hard to project their voices so that we could follow the dialogue, but the voice projection occasionally crossed the line into shouting and skirted dangerously close to being a little hammy, although thankfully it never quite slipped into that. Another thing that didn’t quite work for me was when the show moved into comedy moments or tried to make us laugh. As the main thrust of the show was deciphering who was killing and raping young women in a series of S&M related grisly murders, the comedy elements felt a little jarring. Maybe for other audience members these moments acted as a valve to release the tension? I’m not sure, but they did feel a little like a vehicle for Shane Richie to hang some of his well known, ‘cheeky chappie’ persona on; this felt unnecessary to me, as his acting was strong enough on its own without this.
Overall though, Not Dead Enough is a good night of entertainment despite some of my misgivings. The staging was excellent; clearly defined areas on the stage that were lit as they were used conveyed a sense of place and plot development without having to break the action for a scene change. The music that punctuated each change of scene or marked the curtain rise at the beginning and interval was eerie and a little creepy, and added to the overall tension. If, unlike me, crime thrillers do it for you, you will undoubtedly enjoy Not Dead Enough, and you should see this show if you can. No, I am not converted, but I have a hankering to sit down and watch some Silent Witness tonight, so it certainly was worth it!
Not Dead Enough runs until Saturday 4th March at The Bristol Hippodrome.
Review by Karen Blake