Rebus: Long Shadows – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Writers: Ian Rankin and Rona Munro

Director: Robin Lefevre

Reviewer: James Garrington

Detective Inspector John Rebus has retired. Or at least, that’s the theory. Then the daughter of a murder victim suddenly appears on the stairs outside his flat, and he’s drawn back into his past. Haunted by the memories of cases that went unsolved, he throws himself back into action – can the result of an old closed case help or hinder the police in finding justice for the victims?

This is not a stage version of a book or a TV show – it’s a brand new Rebus story written specifically as a play, so even the most ardent fans of the books will find something here to engage them. The large cast of characters that you can find in a book, or even on television, is not really an option on stage – so here we have a cast of just six which creates a strong focus on the individuals and how they are affected by the storyline. It’s a classic Rebus storyline too, with the inevitable twists, turns and false trails along the way.

The design by TI Green is minimal, with a sweeping staircase and odd pieces of furniture. It’s cleverly ambiguous and multi-purpose, too. Rebus has a chair and some filing cabinets, but then a record turntable – is this a home or an extension of his old office? Yet replace the filing cabinets with more comfortable chairs and drinks trolley, and suddenly the staircase that served well as part of a run-down block of flats is suddenly an integral part of a plush penthouse. The stark and gritty nature of the piece is nicely enhanced by the deliberately unsubtle lighting designed by Chahine Yavroyan and Simon Bond.

This is a play that revolves around the relationships between the three main characters. Centre stage is Charles Lawson as Rebus. The impression that many in the audience will have of the character is from watching Ken Stott on television and Lawson steps comfortably into those shoes with a performance that feels both relaxed and natural. He’s a man who is haunted – quite literally – by past failures, and who has not lost any of his determination to see certain people behind bars. Cathy Tyson plays his one-time protégée, now colleague, DI Siobhan Clarke. In some ways the opposite of Rebus, Clarke plays by the book and Tyson gives a nicely nuanced performance as a woman who is torn when faced with a dilemma about how to best get the result the police need.

Making up the trio is John Stahl as Cafferty, a man who Rebus has longed to see imprisoned but has never quite managed to achieve. This is a show-stealing performance – Stahl is every inch the arch-villain, imposing and threatening yet covered by a thin veneer of respectability. He’s moved on from having to use his physical strength to get what he wants, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous and Stahl brings out the character – and his true feelings, motives and emotions – with confidence. The cast is completed by Neil McInven in a number of roles, with Dani Heron and Eleanor House playing the ghosts – or memories rather – of past victims, with competent performances from all three.

Incidental and background music from Garth McConaghie works well to create additional tension and helps to drive the action forward. Some of the dialogue is difficult to pick up, largely due to the number of lines which are directed upstage rather than to the audience, but that doesn’t get in the way of the story overmuch.

With occasional violence and very strong language throughout, this is a Rebus tale which, despite building on relationships developed in the books, still stands well on its own. There’s something here for everyone, whether you’re an ardent fan or just someone who enjoys a police drama.

Runs Until 6 October 2018 | Image: Robert Day

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Classic Rebus twists and turns

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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