Rebus: Long Shadows

Ian Rankin, adapted by Rona Munro
Daniel Schumann, Lee Dean and Cambridge Arts Theatre in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Charles Lawson as John Rebus Credit: Robert Day
Cathy Tyson as Siobhan Clarke and Charles Lawson as Rebus Credit: Robert Day

For the very first time, author Ian Rankin, together with playwright Rona Munro, has written his latest story exclusively for the stage and it certainly gives an extra dimension to his characters making them really live, although concentration is still necessary to follow the rather convoluted plot.

Rankin’s famous detective, Rebus, has been gradually ageing with each new book and, now fully retired from the police force, seems intent on departing this life in a haze of lethargic inebriation until, on the way back to his flat at 2AM (where had he been?), he gets into conversation with a teenage girl sprawled provocatively on the flight of concrete steps. She knows exactly what can happen to a young girl in this city, she says, as her mother was murdered here 17 years ago, but she can look after herself. She ought to have known better, or there again—maybe she did!

This conversation brings to Rebus’s mind not only that episode which had never been concluded satisfactorily, but two similar murders around the same time and from that moment his latent detective instincts click in and he is literately haunted by the ghosts of all three as they appear out of the shadows to berate him for their lack of justice.

Rankin wanted this to be “a character study, a whodunit and a piece of choreography in which the central trio dance around each other as allegiances shift and hidden truths eventually reach the spotlight” which, for me, makes for much more interesting theatre than a simple ‘whodunit’. I really enjoyed the psychological aspect, especially the battle of wits between Rebus and his long-time adversary—the man he’s been trying to put behind bars for a long time—and I found the characters to be exactly as I would have imagined them both in looks and attitude.

Charles Lawson gradually changes from a world-weary retiree to a guilt-ravaged ex-cop bent on getting belated justice and thinks he knows how to go about it, but in Rebus’s world manipulating the evidence was deemed acceptable. Could this be his downfall? John Stahl is magnificent as his adversary ‘Big Ger' Cafferty taking a malignant pleasure in humiliating the detective while showing off his penthouse apartment and his extensive, and expensive, wine cellar.

The third of Rankin’s ‘trio’ is the briskly efficient Siobhan Clarke, played superbly by Cathy Tyson, anxiously trying to keep Rebus safely playing by the rules with her loyalty and affection for her erstwhile mentor being sorely tried.

Lighting, music, sound all play their part in creating the atmosphere and Ti Green’s stark and simple set has the curving concrete steps dominating the stage with a dangerously dark and eerie alleyway underneath, with only a few pieces of furniture necessary to create living areas, and Robin LeFevre directs with a feeling for timing and atmosphere.

Rankin enthusiasts might miss the intricately detailed descriptions in his books, but personally I really enjoying seeing his characters live on stage—and there’s a neat little twist at the end which took me by surprise.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor