Writer: Ian Rankin
Adaption: Rona Munro
Director: Robin Lefevre
Reviewer: Tom Ralphs
Edinburgh’s favourite detective comes home. Over thirty years after he first appeared in print and ten years since he was last seen on TV, notwithstanding repeats, Rebus has finally made it on to the stage. Whether it was worth the wait is open to question. Long Shadows is good, but it feels as if it’s been made because it could be, rather than because it had to be.
On the opening night of the Edinburgh run, actor Charles Lawson was taken ill, meaning that it fell to Neil McKinven to step up to the role of Rebus in the second performance. The various parts he was playing are now taken on by Andy Paterson. Both actors coped remarkably well with this unexpected change, and with the exception of one scene were McKinven understandably has his script on stage with him, there was nothing that would suggest this is not the intended cast for the production.
The play opens with Rebus meeting a girl on the stairs of his tenement flat. She is singing a Peter Frampton song, the only Peter Frampton song most people will be able to recall. That Rebus does know the song is the first of many nice touches that show that Rona Munro has captured the nuances and attitudes that have defined Rebus since Rankin first created him.
As Rebus talks to the girl he realises that she is the daughter of the victim in an unsolved murder case. Maggie, the girl’s mother, is soon haunting Rebus making it inevitable that he will have to investigate the crime even though he is now retired. At the same time, another case from the past is being dealt with by his former colleague Siobhan Clarke, and the two men involved in that case are Rebus’ old adversary ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty and Mordaunt, a man who was known to have killed another young woman but never faced justice for that crime at least.
The two cases become intertwined and Rebus’ involvement in the latter is as much an issue for Siobhan as his desire to solve Maggie’s murder is for him. As the parallel stories unfold what emerges is a play that draws on the darker, more psychological elements of the Rebus books. It’s low on twists and turns and high on exploration of moral codes and Rebus and Cafferty’s morbid fascination with each other.
Seeing Rebus confronted with the fact that, for most of the Edinburgh police force, he is someone whose name means nothing and whose reputation is now non-existent, adds to the downbeat feel of much of the play, whilst also being amusing. Similarly Rebus’ complaints about modern day life, such as tapas pubs and Waitrose home deliveries, alongside observations on the failed attempts to transform some of the less salubrious parts of the city, are all entirely in keeping with the dark humour and cynical world view of the books if not the TV version of the character.
But, while it ticks all the character and settings boxes, the story itself feels more like a short story stretched into a play than a fully fleshed out idea and never fully takes flight. It’s almost the opposite of the TV series where lengthy books could be shoehorned into sixty minute dramas with ad breaks thrown in, and means that for people encountering Rebus for the first time it may be difficult to get into the character and they may not find enough in the way of plot to compensate for that.
Runs until 13 October 2018 | Image: