First play for 40 years for EastEnders legend in Brighton

The last time – before this – Adam Woodyatt was on the stage in a straight play, it was 1981 and he was 13.

Adam Woodyatt
Adam Woodyatt

Now he is on the road in the stage adaptation of Peter James’ bestselling Brighton-based novel Looking Good Dead including a date at Brighton Theatre Royal from October 11-16.

In between times, Adam has, of course, become the longest serving cast member in EastEnders having appeared continuously as Ian Beale since the show began in 1985.

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Now he’s on an extended break from the show, touring the country as businessman Tom Bryce in James’ thriller.

Hours after picking up a USB memory stick, left behind on a train seat, Tom Bryce inadvertently becomes a witness to a vicious murder. Reporting the crime to the police has disastrous consequences, placing him and his family in grave danger. When Detective Superintendent Roy Grace becomes involved, Grace has his own demons to contend with while he tries to crack the case in time to save the Bryce family’s lives.

Adam has read the book: “And I would love to read the other Roy Grace books, but I spend my entire life reading scripts. It is very rare that I get to read a book!”

It’s a pleasure as rare as the theatre: “We opened in July, and the reaction has been great. The best quote I have read so far is that it has as many twists and turns as an Olympic gymnast! I liked that!”

Aside from pantos, it’s Adam’s first return to the stage for a play since Tom Stoppard’s On The Razzle as a 13-year-old at the National Theatre.

“I was a kid back then and I really didn’t know what I had let myself in for. It is just the exuberance of youth, and I just thought great and did it. There was no fear for me then and there is no fear now.

“The chance came up to do a Peter James a while ago and we just couldn’t make it work. The producer approached my agent again and this time we could make it work. We were determined to make it work – and we managed to make it work around a worldwide pandemic. We should have started in January this year. We actually got started in July.”

It’s a huge transition from the screen work: “Everything is different. There is no comparison between working on TV and working on stage. Some of the preparation is the same but the whole process is different.”

But for the moment, the stage show is Adam’s only certainty. They will be doing it through to April and then who knows what will happen next: “I genuinely don’t know if I am doing it (EastEnders) again. I will just go where life takes me. If my next job is theatre, then great. If my next job is TV, then great. If I am just going around the country, then great.”

For his portrayal of EastEnders’ Ian Beale, Adam was honoured in 2013 with the Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2015, after the EastEnders’ 30th anniversary live episode, he received Best Actor at the British Soap Awards. But there is nothing definite about what the future holds:“I don’t know about EastEnders. I really don’t. All I know is that this tour is running until April and there is nothing fixed up before then.”

Looking Good Dead is Peter James’s fifth novel to be brought to the stage and follows successful productions of The House on Cold Hill, Not Dead Enough, The Perfect Murder and Dead Simple.