Rebus: Long Shadows at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh (Monday 8th to Saturday 13th October) brings one of the great creations of modern crime fiction to the stage – Ian Rankin’s John Rebus. This production with a new story written by Ian Rankin himself and adapted by Rona Munro is probably as close as any stage show is ever going to get to the books and, like the books, the City of Edinburgh in both its light and dark shadows is the setting for our story – where else could it ever have been?
Rebus, more than worn around the edges and battered by life’s stormy seas, is a literary creation to rival the very best of them, even Sherlock Holmes. So powerful is the figure that even non serial readers of the books like myself will probably know someone who loves them and from various radio and television adaptations over the years will still be very familiar with the character and his world. The problem with all great literary creations when you adapt them to any format is that you do not have the luxury of time that a novel allows you to explore the details of everything in the story or the time frame to tell it in that a novel can have. With a creation like Rebus this is even more of a problem as every reader probably has their own image of what Rebus looks and sounds like and also similar pictures in their mind’s eye of everyone else in his world.
In this story “Long Shadows”, Rebus is now retired, but the ghosts of unsolved murder victims still haunt him, and a chance meeting with the daughter of one of those victims in the common stair of his home building brings events of the past and the present sharply into focus as yesterday’s long shadows reach out to touch him once more. As our story develops and interweaves with an ongoing case by Siobhan Clarke, Rebus also finds his own past and encounters with crime boss “Big Ger” Cafferty taking centre stage once more as old rivalries and unsettled scores take their own twists and turns in a way that strangely sees the present too casting its own “long shadows” on the past.
Rebus, played by Neil McKinven, was pretty much how I imagined him to be, and Neil did a fine job giving us a portrayal of a man haunted by his own past and the personal regrets that he carries with him on a daily basis. This Rebus, without the work distraction of being an active police investigation officer, is even more lonely and living in his own ever shrinking world of retirement. Making Neil’s portrayal on stage more impressive is that he is only picking up the lead role this week as, sadly, star of our show Charles Lawson had to retire from the role “on stage” in Monday’s performance due to health reasons. I hope that Charles is making a good recovery.
Cathy Tyson, who many will remember from starring with Bob Hoskins in the 1986 film “Mona Lisa” plays a good Siobhan Clarke here, and a solid background of theatre work since “Mona Lisa” has more than allowed her to develop the skills needed to portray a career woman who finds herself having to consider an unthinkable choice as her former mentor’s past impacts upon her present too.
Stealing much of this show at times is John Stahl as “Big Ger” Cafferty, and the scenes between him and Rebus are just classic little slices of theatre. This is a chess game and a giant game of cat and mouse that has gone on between the two of them for over 25 years, and the joy that Cafferty has in thinking that he finally has won the game is a pleasure to watch.
Long Shadows is more than just the title of this story, but the visuals of it too and a carefully designed and lit set that serves at once to be all of our required spaces whenever needed adds to the atmosphere of this story and also to the personality of Rebus. Music is also a very important factor here, but Ian Rankin is a good enough writer to use it not only as background, but also as an integral part of the story and its development. For some reason, I could never quite get the lyrics to “My Way” out of my head when watching this performance; they just seemed to suit John Rebus perfectly.
King’s Theatre audiences traditionally love their murders and thrillers, but Wednesday night can often be a slow night for audiences coming out at any theatre. No such worries here for this show. Even the not too often opened up top tiers of the theatre were in use tonight. Readers simply love Rebus and audiences are responding in equal appreciation to this show.
Review by Tom King