In the same week that Casey Affleck won an Oscar for a role of duality, the Bristol Hippodrome saw another actor tread the tightrope of performing two personalities.
Stephen Billington (best known as Coronation Street’s bad boy Greg Kelly) was tasked as portraying a man of seemingly split personality Brian Bishop in Not Dead Enough. All the tricks of duality were there: as Brian Bishop he was upstanding and respectful in his neutrally-coloured clothes and his brown brogues; yet as ‘the other Brian’ donned head to toe in black (the universally recognised sign for villainy), brimming with fetishes, manipulation he oozed psychopath.
Not Dead Enough follows policeman Roy Grace, played by Eastender’s Shane Richie, and his pathologist girlfriend Cleo Morey, played by I’m a Celebrity’s Laura Whitmore, as they investigate the murder of Brighton socialite Katie Bishop.
Katie’s murder is soon followed by others all sharing the same signatures of a serial killer, not least the recurring note ‘Because you loved her’. There is also another link to all the victims they are covered in the DNA of the same man- Brian Bishop. Yet Brian pleads his innocence, and unsettling for DS Roy Grace he seems to be speaking the truth.
The play is an adaption of a Peter James novel, and having not read the novel I don’t know whether it is the original story that is fundamentally implausible and yet lacking in suspense or just the stage adaption. Ultimately this is a play where you feel about five steps ahead of the characters and with some issues in timing even the actors playing those characters.
Before Roy Grace had even raised the issue of disassociated split personality disorder I was thinking that was Brian’s issue, then scenes ahead of the mention of a twin brother I was also pondering this as solution to the ‘Whodunnit?’ question. But it wasn’t just with the actual crime that I was ahead, I seemed to have formed the jokes and one liners before they were spoken, and I wasn’t the only one as someone behind me audibly said at one point ‘I knew he was going to say that’. In fact at one moment the audience were laughing before the joke was complete because we all knew what was coming.
For a modern audience in an age of Broadchurch, the most excellent Endeavour and even Grantchester this was a play too unintentionally farcical and lacking in suspense to be believable or to grip viewers.
Yet despite these faults in the story, Billington’s appearance on stage as ‘other Brian’ was enough to make me shudder with revolution and occasionally jump with surprise. And in the scene where he was finally revealed as Norman, Brian’s unknown identical triplet brother, Billington’s full acting prowess came into play with some previously subtle differences in the characters expanded allowing the audience to see the complete contrast in the portrayals and Billington’s range.
Laura Whitmore was also a surprise with her performance, of all the characters she appeared the most natural, and I found I warmed to her feisty and independent portrayal of Cleo. In the scene where she discovers her hapless assistant Sophie dead in one of the mortuary freezers her reaction was perfectly balanced and never strayed into theatrics.
The split set design should also be commended, allowing the audience to get a sense of the parallel investigations of the mortuary and the police station, with nothing more than changes in lightening to draw us from one location and scene to another. Whilst the set design was one of the stand out features of the play it did also betray the fact that this is a production that would work far better in a smaller performance space. The split set actually created more distance between the audience and the characters, and even from our good seats in the stalls it was difficult to see the expressions of the actors and at times hear the lines.
For Peter James’ fans this play would be a must see whilst fans of Midsommer Murders and more light-hearted, easy viewing crime dramas are sure to be gripped.