Touring – reviewed at Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton
Old sins have long shadows and none more so than the past indescretions of maverick detective, John Rebus, writer Ian Rankin’s notorious cop, who has now made the transition from screen to stage.
The past catches up with the whisky-swilling ex-DI in Rebus: Long Shadows, a brooding, noirish, thriller especially written by Rankin for the stage and skilfully adapted by Rona Munro.
It has been touring the UK to great acclaim and this week has been winning fans at the Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton with former Coronation Street star Charlie Lawson following in the footsteps of TV incarnations, John Hannah and Ken Stott.
I must admit that I’m an addict when it comes to crime thrillers and cop series. I’ve seen them all and have become a bit of a cod-detective myself in solving fictitious crimes. So I was eager to see if Rebus, a huge hit on TV through four series in the early 2000s, and set on the streets of Edinburgh, could make the transition to the theatre.
I couldn’t be more pleased with the transfer. Director Robin Lefevre has created a tense and haunting thriller that is packed with suspense and intrigue. The complex plot contains all the twists and red herrings that you’d expect from one of the country’s top novelists. The result is a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat drama that will have you enthralled.
It has to be said that Lawson doesn’t really get to grips with Rebus’s Scots accent and mostly relies on a bastard Erse that frequently reverts to his native Northern Irish brogue.
However, he nails it as the curmudgeonly lone-wolf who isn’t afraid to bend the rules to get the right result. Gritty, uncompromising, humourless, Lawson is terrific in the role, so he is.
In Long Shadows DI Rebus is retired from the force and spends his days slumped in a chair, bored and sleeping off one whisky-soaked bender after another.
But he is haunted by ghosts from his past, living and dead. His former sidekick Siobhan Clarke is now up for DI and is working to put behind bars a scumbag rapist and murderer who has escaped justice for too long.
Mordaunt was jailed, briefly, for attacking Rebus’s nemesis, local crime boss Big Ger Cafferty, but the cops could never find enough evidence to convict him as a serial killer…until now.
Thanks to modern DNA advances there may finally be enough evidence to send him down.
At the same time Rebus is approached by the daughter of murder victim Maggie Towler. Maggie was another unsolved case from 2001. Will Rebus reopen the case and hunt down the culprit?
It soon becomes clear that both cases are linked to both Rebus and Cafferty. The lines become increasingly blurred as to who stands on the right side of the law.
The result is a thrilling climax between John Stahl’s superbly intimidating and ruthless Cafferty and Lawson’s needling, dogged, ex-cop.
The dialogue is wordy, as you’d expect, and you have to be on your toes to follow not only the plotting but also those unseen clues…or are they red herrings?
The major drawback to putting something like this on stage is you’re trapped in a theatre with one set. No chases, no sleazy locations, no sights of Edinburgh to add colour.
But here Ti Green’s austere set design and stark lighting from Chahine Yavroyan and Simon Bond is all the atmosphere you need. It’s visually bleak and menacing.
Hard-working support cast sees Neil McKinven pop up as Mordaunt, a snitch, a drug dealer, a morgue technician and more while Eleanor House plays both the ghost of young murder victim Maggie and her very much alive, teen daughter, Heather.
Stahl is mesmerising as Cafferty, a larger-than-life character that totally dominates the action when he’s on stage.
But Cathy Tyson, as Clarke, isn’t given enough to do. Perhaps they’re saving her for the follow-up which must surely be on the cards.
A riveting thriller that has me gripped throughout. A triumph for producers, Birmingham Rep.
Rebus: Long Shadows plays on the Royal stage until Saturday. The tour continues to His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, (Nov 12 – 17) and Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford (Nov 19 – 24).
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