Adam Woodyatt has been the concrete holding Albert Square together, playing the only character to feature in EastEnders since its 1985 launch, but for the mo he’s bailed on Ian Beale, instead hitting up Cardiff’s New Theatre in an adaption of Peter James’ novel Looking Good Dead. Carl Marsh lends an ear.
The Peter James stage adaptation of Looking Good Dead features you as Tom Bryce. What’s so good about this book that’s enticed you to take the role over anything else?
Well, Peter James is an incredible writer. Since I’ve been doing the publicity for this show, he was on 18 number one bestsellers. It now might be 20! He writes very believable murder-mystery thrillers. His research is impeccable – and quite scary. Me and Gaynor [Faye, Looking Good Dead co-star] were talking to him about the book, which he wrote about 20 years ago, and the research he was doing back then – it was terrifying what he was telling us. Really scary. It was pretty helpful knowing a bit more about what was behind it, but it’s quite horrific!
How different is the stage version going to be, for any avid fan of the book?
OK, well I don’t think this will be a spoiler or is going to shatter anyone’s expectations, but the helicopter crash at the end: no, we haven’t got it! [Laughter] We haven’t got the budget of Miss Saigon, so no. Basically, so that people who’ve read the book still get a good night out, it’s based on the book; it’s been adapted from the book. But there are some changes along the way to keep everybody testing what’s going on. There are more twists and turns. So, even if you have read it, you can still come along and not quite know what’s going on.
It sounds like you’ve either become even more of a fan of Peter James’ work since getting this part – or weren’t a fan beforehand!
What it was is that two of my friends have been in previous adaptions. So, I knew more about Peter James from them than by reading. To be perfectly honest, reading hasn’t always been top of my list of things to do when I’ve got time off of work, because my work has always involved reading scripts, so I don’t tend to read as relaxation. It’s the same thing as a DJ. The last thing he is going to do is play records to relax.
Some people might be wondering why it’s taken you this long to get back on the stage properly. You’ve done some panto, but the last time in a serious play was in the early 80s.
I tried to do it before, as we were discussing doing The House On Cold Hill [also by Peter James], but the timing didn’t work for me and the opportunity went away. Then in February 2020, the producers came to me and said, they were doing Looking Good Dead next January – would I be interested? And that was the right time, the right opportunity, all the cards lined up to make it possible. And then COVID lined up and nearly wrecked it! COVID got in the way by postponing things and rearranging schedules, which was a bit inconvenient. I know many people had it a lot worse than just having their show postponed, and they got badly affected by it.
Working on EastEnders for all these years, have you become at all fearful of being… institutionalised, TV-wise?
Carl! You make it sound like it was a prison sentence! For me, it’s just been a job. Whether it’s this stage play, whether it’s a panto, or EastEnders, it is work. It is a job. I don’t see it as anything else.
And how long did it take you to relax, knowing you didn’t have to be filming on that set most days?
It was kind of instant! I was like “Yee-hee” [laughs]. I haven’t got to ask anybody’s permission if I wanted to get my hair cut! To not have to worry about that level of continuity that we had [in EastEnders] has been good. It gives you an element of freedom.
Looking Good Dead, New Theatre, Cardiff, Tue 28 Sept-Sat 2 Oct. Tickets: £18-£40. Info: 0343 3100041 / here
words CARL MARSH