Review: Dead Lies. Belgrade Theatre. Coventry

As if the current political climate weren’t already dramatic enough, it’s even been brought to UK stages this year.  Having enjoyed a nationwide tour over the last few months, ‘Dead Lies’ finishes its run at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre this week. 

Written by crime novelist Hilary Bonner, the play follows MP Peter George (played by Jeremy Edwards, of Hollyoaks and Holby City), a political party leader midway through an election campaign which will hopefully kick Boris Johnson out of Number 10.  With the public firmly behind him and aided by support from wife Jo (Portia Booroff) and Press Secretary Kate (Alicia Charles), his victory seems assured.  However, when an old acquaintance unexpectedly reappears in his life, long-buried secrets threaten to re-emerge which could force Peter to lose everything.

The behaviour of UK government over the last two years has certainly provided a banquet of material for Bonner to use in her play, and her script is littered with references to lockdowns, “Partygate”, general dishonesty (or outright lies), and even certain famous hairstyles.  The play uses everything that our government have arguably done wrong in order to show George in a positive light and a viable new choice for Prime Minister, and if it were aiming to be a sharp political drama (or even satire or spoof), it might have worked.  However, in its attempt to be the “scandalous thriller” it promotes itself to be, ‘Dead Lies’ falls frustratingly short.  Director Joe Harmston sets the pace at such “slow-burn” levels that it regularly feels more like it’s going to burn out instead.  Scenes are too long, overly wordy, often either hammering points home or going around the houses several times before making them.  The script takes a frustratingly long time to get to the sordid event from George’s past, and then offers little in the way of surprises from that point until the play’s climax, which many will see coming (and, again, takes too long to reach its boiling point).  The lengthy running time (2 hours 40 with interval) isn’t sustained, with not enough meat on the plot’s bones to keep the audience gripped.  A sharper, tighter script would have helped, perhaps played at 90 minutes straight through.

Unfortunately the performances are uniformly average, which again make the play feel dull and lethargic.  Edwards may make a handsome leading man but doesn’t really convince as either the dynamic “man of the people” or the disgraced figure on the brink of ruin.  Alicia Charles also gives a one-note performance as the Press Secretary trying to keep a lid on the scandal, perhaps restricted by having to deliver her lines in an American accent which she doesn’t seem wholly at ease with.  Other performances across the cast are uneven and unauthentic, with some bordering on caricature (Claire Dyson’s ex-supermodel Stephanie Jones, channelling AB Fab’s Edina Monsoon and reminding the audience of far better material). 

Neither political enough to be clever, or tense enough to be thrilling, ‘Dead Lies’ is unfortunately a tepid churn through an over-written story with unengaging performances.  With so much happening in the real political world right now, you may as well stay at home and watch the news instead.

‘Dead Lies’ concludes its UK tour at the Belgrade Theatre this week.

Performance runtime 2 hours 40 minutes including interval

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