It seemed a strange decision to put Rebus on stage. It’s worked a treat with Poirot of course and Ian Rankin has laudably decided to write a new story rather than recycle a previous book. He then handed it over to his fellow Scot Rona Munro to dramatize it…and her touch is so light, it does have the feel of a small novel on a big stage. I craved for intimacy in the stark, monolithic setting. Confessions should be heard in a closet, not an aircraft hanger.
Rebus has something hanging over him which refuses to let him retire. 16 years ago a young woman was murdered taking a short cut home at night across a building site. At the time he passed the case onto a less than conscientious colleague. Now he meets her daughter … and the injustice of the lack of justice spurs him to reopen the case and, in the light of scientific advances, re-examine the evidence. The trouble with DNA tests is you never know what else they might throw up.
Rebus is haunted by his past – in particular by the ghosts of two raped school girls who taunt him for not solving their deaths either. The moody lighting, the pencil spots and the echoing voices underline their ghostliness – which is swept away in an instant when they are required to shift furniture.
The third, and strongest storyline, is his re-engagement with his old adversary ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty. There’s a skeleton in the cupboard here too. Who did thwack him over the head with a wooden beam 25 years ago? And how was he mixed up in the murders? In a long conversation, seated in the middle of the vast space, they talk themselves into a stalemate.
And that’s how I felt about the play. Far from rising to a crescendo, it spiralled into inertia. That must be a common consequence in police work, of course, but it doesn’t lend itself to high drama.
The power of the piece is in the performances. Silver-haired Charles Lawson gives a beautifully troubled portrayal of a man who is being left behind; desperately searching Edinburgh for a bar rather than a bistro to wash away his sorrows. He’s not your typical crusty old cop. His rear-guard action – fighting for traditional values – rings very true as he tries to keep truth and honour to the forefront of his work…till faced with his own dishonesty. Neverthless, Lawson leaves us trusting his character implicitly, despite his failings.
Cathy Tyson is a strong, practical, down to earth Siobhan Clarke who finds her loyalty to Rebus increasingly tested by his procedural infirmities. Her slight Scouse accent marks her out as a stranger in Scottish criminal society. She will have no truck with doing deals with gangsters.
Which bring us to the star turn of the show. Shaven-headed John Stahl is magnificent as a very big ‘Big Ger’ – a supremely confident criminal who owns a penthouse pad and the streets it looks down on. He is a still man, whose very stare is a threat to law and order. He diminishes visibly when he thinks his time is up – shrinking into old age before our eyes. But he has a clever final card to play.
It’s a brooding production which benefits from plenty of long shadows, some thunderous music and a running Sheena Easton joke. As ever with Rankin, the plotting is perfect and the storyline authentically believable. It’s uneasy invasion of the stage leaves it as a curio for theatre lovers…but I suspect it will became a must-see for the Rebus faithful.