Ian Rankin and Rona Munro Birmingham Rep Opera House, Manchester 30 October 2018 to 03 November 2018
I'm a Rebus fan, so really want to like his first stage outing, a tale specially written for the theatre, rather than adapted from one of the novels. But the reviews from earlier in the tour are not encouraging …
It’s a new plot but involves one of his oldest characters, Big Ger Cafferty, a notorious Glaswegian gangster who has sparred with Rebus over more years than either will care to remember, and here he seems to know some of the answers to an unsolved case from the past.
Rebus, now retired, comes into contact with the daughter of a murder victim whose killer was never traced, and she challenges him to solve the mystery.
There are a satisfying number of twists and turns in the typical Rankin manner, and convincing performances. But it’s undeniably a sparsely populated Edinburgh compared with the books or TV versions, and while the inevitable concentration on character pays its own dividends, the visual concept – presumably arrived at after discussions between director Robin Lefevre and designer Ti Green – is an unfortunate mistake. It’s a huge, stage-filling collection of very dark grey walls and sweeping staircase, vast and dwarfing the actors, when what was really required was something much more intimate and involving.
Charles Lawson (only recently having made a villainous revisit to Coronation Street as Jim McDonald, and now recovered from an on-stage mini-stroke a couple of weeks ago) is pretty much an ideal Rebus. His humanly defective detective is haunted by past failures – literally in this case – but with enough whisky-fuelled confidence to go into battle again. He looks almost exactly right, a little too handsome perhaps, but that’s OK. If they’re ever going to put Rebus back on TV – please – Lawson is the man.
John Stahl’s imposing gangster, with his thin veneer of respectability but still oozing oiliness by the bucketload, comes into his own in a long second act confrontation that satisfyingly ratchets up the plot and tension. Just a pity that here, as elsewhere, audibility is sometimes a problem. I’ll say it again – all plays these days, in a 2,000-seater, should be mic'd.
Perhaps the piece has gathered conviction and pace during the tour: whatever, I enjoyed it more than earlier reports suggested I would, and I’m happy to see the Opera House is still persevering with the occasional serious play among all the musicals and on this occasion attracting a sizeable audience.