Ian Rankin’s latest instalment to the Rebus saga has all the moody hallmarks of its predecessors.
Rebus: Long Shadows – now showing at the Opera House, Manchester – sees our eponymous hero as a washed up ex-cop living alone in a stuffy high rise flat, prone to drink and trapped within torturous thoughts of his unsolved cases.
Rankin brought in playwright Rona Munro to adapt his original story, known for The James Plays – an epic tetralogy of Scotland’s bloody and merciless history.
Like The James Plays, the scenes are heavily dialogic but remain compelling through the deft pacing of the script and the skill of the actors on stage. Through the misery and the heartbreak of the scenario there’s a dark humour laced within the snappy dialogue. It certainly isn’t a torturous watch.
Long Shadows lacks subtlety. Munro has chosen to heighten the theatrics through various devices, such as the ghostly murder victims, and the audience is constantly reminded that Rebus’ ways of policing are old fashioned through on-the-nose dialogue.
There are elements of Shakespearian symbolism and Greek tragedy, so these blunt methods actually fit within the narrative.
Robin Lefevre’s direction is brutal, with the dialogue batting back and forth between the actors like a knife thrusting in and out relentlessly.
Charles Lawson (Coronation Street) inhabits the old rogue, staggering around the stage – agonised by the filth and on a path of self-retribution. He’s haunted by the ghosts of two murdered teenage girls demanding him to solve their cold cases.
This torment is a form of self-infliction; he can’t leave the force behind. He rifles through old reports in his flat, digging up the past and badgers his former partner Siobhan (Cathy Tyson) for case updates. Most of the action takes place around the main character, who dominates the stage with his quiet presence.
John Stahl, who portrays the evil ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty, delivers an electrifying performance as the criminal kingpin of Edinburgh. He’s funny and slick, which gives him a likable quality akin to Alan Rickman’s more evil performances.
He prances on the stage in a fancy shirt and supping expensive liquor, a contrast to Rebus. This pantomime-esque performance is likeable – but it makes his evil nature seem less believable.
Tyson delivers a weak performance, with her lines coming across as affected and lacking any authenticity. There is a disconnect between the substance of the lines and her execution of the dialogue.
Ti Green’s simple set design accentuates the dour nature of the piece. The musty dark brown colour reminds you of cigarette-smudged rooms and the cold Edinburgh weather.
The curved spiral which sweeps within the centre stage acts as a fantastic focal point to display the action, although at times it is difficult to hear some of the dialogue when the actors are pressed so far back within the large curving set piece.
Long Shadows never presents a dull moment. From the very start, Rebus is getting himself involved in the nefarious business of the criminal underworld and the story is tightly packed with a series of tense scenes that new fans will readily enjoy.
*Rebus: Long Shadows is showing at the Opera House, Manchester until Saturday, November 3. You can buy tickets HERE.