Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Despite boasting the talents of two of Scotland’s greatest writers and a more than adequate cast, Rebus: Long Shadows is nowhere near as compelling as the stage debut of Edinburgh’s most celebrated fictional policeman should be.
Indeed, the greatest intrigue on the first night was provided by the health of one of the cast, as Coronation Street’s Charles Lawson, who plays Rebus, was taken ill only a few minutes into the second half and proved unable to continue.
Everyone obviously sends Lawson best wishes for a speedy recovery. However, the cruel fact is that the drama provided by his indisposition proved more compelling to the audience than that which was scripted. And while it may be somewhat unfair to provide a full criticism under such circumstances, it was already abundantly clear that the production was never going to catch fire.
The reasons for this must be laid at the door of the material. With Ian Rankin providing an original story for a script by Rona Munro, the piece’s pedigree suggests it should be something of a masterclass in suspenseful stagecraft. Yet the end result – featuring a long-retired Rebus facing his nemesis ‘Big Ger Cafferty’ while trying to right some of the wrongs of his past – is not nearly so compelling.
The portraits of the changing face of Edinburgh supplied by the Rebus chronicles fail to engage on stage, with a couple of remarks about the absence of dockers and the appearance of expensive high-rises not really sufficing. Rankin’s compelling sense of place is replaced by something oddly generic.
Munro’s dialogue, meanwhile, is often forced and unnatural, as if she is being too respectful to the source. The result is true to neither the harder-boiled originals nor to Munro’s own voice.
The portrayal of voices from Rebus’ past as physical entities rather than internal demons also strikes a false note here, despite the efforts of Dani Heron and Eleanor House.
Eleanor House , Charles Lawson and Dani Heron. Pic: Robert Day
Indeed, the acting throughout can barely be faulted. Cathy Tyson’s upright, brittle DI Siobhan Clarke provides an effective contrast to Rebus’s rumpled lugubriousness and John Stahl’s expansive gangland kingpin ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty. Stahl’s sterling endeavours to get things back on track when the show restarted on the first night were matched by the tremendous efforts of understudy Neil McKinven, script in hand, who played out the final scenes as Rebus.
McKinven, who had earlier impressed in a variety of roles, managed to inject considerable life into the final scenes despite the handicap of having the script in his hand. There is more than enough evidence here to suggest that he would make an intriguing full-time Rebus.
Which is not to say that Lawson was unsatisfactory. On the contrary, any doubts about his suitability for the role – or his accent – lasted all of two seconds. His world-weary cop-out-of-time was very convincing until illness prevented him going any further.
too slow a pace
Everyone, however, struggles with the leaden, over-obvious dialogue, as Robin Lefevre’s direction spins things out at too slow a pace. Unnecessary explanations predominate; over-familiar situations battle it out with twists that are none the more convincing for being so clearly signposted.
John Stahl, Charles Lawson and Cathy Tyson. Pic: Robert Day
The look of the production is undoubtedly handsome, with Ti Green’s stairs-dominated set being one of those ingenious ones that works equally well for interiors and exteriors. Meanwhile, the lighting – by Simon Bond from the design of the late Chahine Yavroyan– takes its cue from the title, with brooding, snaking shadows providing a great deal of the menace the script is lacking.
The efforts of the cast – particularly the redoubtable McKinven – mean that it would be churlish in the extreme to deny the production three stars. However, the most convincing connection to the police force of Rebus’s era is how flat-footed so much of this is.
Running time 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Monday 8 – Saturday 13 October 2018.
Evenings: 7.30pm, matinees Wed, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/rebus
The script of Rebus: Long Shadows is available from Amazon in both hardback and kindle formats. Click on the image for details:
Rebus: Long Shadows on tour 2018:
8 – 13 Oct
0131 529 6000
15 – 20 Oct
22 – 27 Oct
0115 989 5555
29 Oct – 3 Nov
0844 871 3018
5 – 10 Nov
Royal & Derngate
01604 624 811
12 – 17 Nov
His Majesty’s Theatre
19 – 24 Nov
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre