Writers: Ian Rankin and Rona Munro
Director: Robin Lefevre
Reviewer: Ruth Gerrard
Ian Rankin has treated theatre audiences to a brand new outing for his much loved woebegone detective John Rebus (Charles Lawson). Now retired from the force; this new piece picks up an even more morose, shuffling older figure of a man now with more time on his hands to reflect on his Police career and those cases that got away from him.
Fans of the detective series know a lot about Rebus and his old school detective methods. Relying on intuition and good old-fashioned detective work; he has solved a lot of cases but a chance encounter with the daughter of a victim whose murder remained unsolved sets off a chain of events that sees Rebus need to revisit his own past and that of a long-term thorn in his side local gangster ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty (John Stahl). A regular throughout Rankin’s novels; it is good to see the two old adversaries together again in a much-changed Edinburgh from the one of their youth. Time and age are two themes that are referred to frequently in this production and help to give it its melancholic and weary feel.
The idea of an old adversary and a retired Police officer crossing paths again in itself isn’t new and the revisiting of a cold case coupled with nostalgia for policing in a time before sophisticated DNA techniques existed and when officers could simply did what they liked, all in the name of getting a result is a tried and tested recipe for success. The use of Eleanor House and Dani Heron being the ghosts of forgotten victims is not overly successful for this reviewer. Their presence is somewhat distracting at time and rather than the ghostly quality of the victims voices being heard; their presence dominates in a way that is not necessary and actually detracts from the important role these characters play in the plot. A voice from the shadows would be sufficient and perhaps more effective.
Rebus is kept in line to some degree by his old protégé Siobhan Clarke, ably portrayed by Cathy Tyson. Fans of the series will be pleased to see three integral characters brought to life on the stage together. Act Two sees some fantastic dialogue between the three of them. Lawson’s Rebus is suitably downtrodden and shuffles around the stage with a demeanour fitting of the character. Stahl places a good old-fashioned baddy and the complexity of his personality comes through in the piece’s final meeting between the two protagonists at his plush city centre apartment with views across the might Edinburgh. The piece is very dialogue heavy but this is not any issue for any of the cast. The main criticism is that quite a bit of the dialogue is exchanged with one cast member speaking upstage to another which means some of the content can be lost and it can be difficult to follow given the pace and veracity with which it is delivered.
The set has to be multifunctional to represent the various locations in the show but it is somewhat lacklustre. It captures the murky ambiance of Rebus’ rundown apartment and equally doubles up as Cafferty’s plush modern home but does not excel as anything in particular (Ti Green). It is functional at best. Although less can be more; the set is notably minimalistic; perhaps too much so.
Fans of the franchise will not be disappointed and it is great that Rankin has written a new piece of work to bring Rebus to the stage rather than adapting an existing novel. It is accessible to those who have no prior knowledge of the books but works best for those who know at least something about the books. The relationship between Cafferty, Clarke and Rebus is a long complex one that is key to appreciating some of what happens in the play and there is simply not enough time to explore this in detail on the stage without losing the interest of the audience.
This reviewer would like to see much more Rebus on stage as it translates well but would like to see more thought given as to how to make the play stand-alone without simply appearing to be yet another story about an old cop and an old gangster which is how it can come across.
Runs until 3 November 2018 | Image: Robert Day