‘Never going to catch fire’: REBUS: LONG SHADOWS – Touring ★★★

In Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland, Touring by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

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
Edinburgh 
Kings Theatre
0131 529 6000
Book online

15 – 20 Oct
Malvern 
Festival Theatre
01684 892277
Book online

22 – 27 Oct
Nottingham 
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555
Book online

29 Oct – 3 Nov
Manchester 
Opera House
0844 871 3018
Book online

5 – 10 Nov
Northampton 
Royal & Derngate
01604 624 811
Book online

12 – 17 Nov
Aberdeen 
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122
Book online

19 – 24 Nov
Guildford
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
01483 440000
Book online

ENDS

Thom Dibdin on FacebookThom Dibdin on Twitter
Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.
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Thom Dibdin on FacebookThom Dibdin on Twitter
Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.