Ian Rankin’s long-standing detective John Rebus made his first print appearence in 1987 and is now coming to the stage in an exclusive all-new story. Both Rankin and Rona Munro have worked on this new story to bring it to the stage and have ensured to continue the ageing of Rebus in real time. However, this leaves the vital question at the heart of his character; how much longer has he got?
Long Shadows sees Rebus, now retired from the police force, haunted by ghosts of cold cases past, but his desire to rectify these wrongs quickly comes to clash with other, more current, cases which Siobhan Clarke, his former close colleague, is attempting to handle with as much care as possible. By exploring individual points within Edinburgh Rebus must try to consolidate his feelings and aims to silence the taunting ghosts with the priorities of the force and his hidden secrets unwittingly brought to the forefront by all cases surrounding him.
Overall, the tone of this play strikes as very realistic even with the literal inclusion of the ghosts haunting Rebus from the past. Even these ghosts, in particular, come across with a very physically heavy presence despite their narrative function which can be very interesting for anyone coming at this play as a fan of crime thriller novels, which quite often sweep similar ghosts under the rug, or, like myself, from an interest in ghosts. These ghosts are kept very confined to the head of Rebus and very rarely make any impact upon the world around them; however, their inclusion alone, aids the realist tone of the piece.
This tone is also aided by the excellent characterisation of Rebus, Siobhan Clarke and Heather and Maggie in particular among others. Firstly, I was lucky enough to see Dani Heron in the role of Siobhan Clark, and she embodied the character and gave her a firm determination, sense of working right and wrong and ambition. She seemed like a very recognisable character from the TV detective dramas I have seen, and she made the whole narrative very accessible for me as someone less able to relate to the retired Rebus which was very appreciated. Ron Donachie embodied the character of Rebus very precisely. I have not read the books; however, having seen the typicalities of retired police detectives rolled out in multiple TV series, he ensured to fulfil the recognisable characteristics while also bringing his edge of humour and edged his motivations further to the forefront throughout. I also found myself liking Eleanor House very much as both Heather and Maggie. She effortlessly transitions between Heather’s relative abrasiveness and headstrong nature and Maggie’s vulnerability which has been turned harsh and vicious and this makes for two very intriguing characters that I just wanted more of them both.
When these character-based performances are brought together the result is a very intriguing and realistic dialogue and conversation driven plot. The actors are pushed to the forefront here meaning that they become even more impressive when there is just no room to hide. The structure, as the tone, also becomes very realistic despite the slightly supernatural overtones of the haunting of Rebus. However, this dialogue is also brought forward, and the realism is added to by the amusing lines sprinkled throughout. The balance struck between drama and humour is excellent as none of the jokes feels forced, and they fall quite naturally between the characters.
Ti Green’s design and the lighting design from Chahine Yavroyan and Simon Bond came together to create one of the most intricate but straightforward and interesting sets I have seen in a detective stage play. Rather than becoming a focal point of the narrative the two significant segments of the staging, a set of stairs and a tunnel, become eerie backdrops and features of the plot inserting themselves in vital roles as quickly as the actors in some ways.
However, in the midst of the realistic dialogue and excellent character relations, the issues with this play start to arise. The major problem with the level of conversation in this play and the sheer reliance upon it to drive certain aspects of the plot is that it causes the play to fall into the trap of only telling the audience information rather than showing them. There are some exciting depictions of past events but these go unexplored, and there are just too few of them. The ones of them which are there are done well to intrigue the audience, but they could have been implemented far more and far more interestingly.
The result of this reliance on telling the audience rather than showing them causes many introductions, especially to cases, victims, the accused, all get lost especially when the characters discussed are never given a role, and they don’t interact with the other characters. Especially as these details are all relatively small compared to the lengthy conversations they are dropped into I quickly found that any disruption from the audience could cause me to lose my concentration in following the intricacies of the discussion and you could merely miss a name and then spend the rest of that conversation catching up on that one word which you lost due to one cough. It’s just not in an excellent position to be in throughout the show due to the multiple lengthy conversations.
This reliance on lengthy dialogue scenes also hindered one of the major themes of reliving experiences. Especially in the case of Rebus’ character reliving his previous cases and the hauntings he experiences are significant aspects of his role. Whereas the ghosts are done very well any other reliving he goes through is done strictly through his dialogue with no visual aid. While this does naturally aid the realist nature of the play, and therefore upkeeps the unusual nature of the ghosts, it just does not help the length of conversations and when vital details, comedy, revelations, flashbacks, contextual information, and filler information are all consolidated into single conversation scenes it is hard to know what information, in particular, is vital due to this lack of impactful visual aid.
Following this, this play also features two opposites in the two revelations. One very naturally falls victim to the length of the conversation scene it is part of and, while it is obvious and not hidden at all, it does just simply lose the impact of a major revelation. The other, however, comes out of nowhere but in the best way and the visual nature of it aids this. It is very impactful due to the character movements and actions which proves that the realist nature of visual aids could have been achieved throughout.
I also simply found some events during the play to be inconclusive, and there were some loose ends left at the end which could be part of the realism of the play, but there is a stage where it becomes more frustrating than useful. Similarly, as someone who is coming from a background of examining literature and theatre and enjoying digging a little, a lot of the themes, such as the fears of the father or older man at the apparent promiscuity of a growing young girl into a woman, are stated in a slightly too obvious manner throughout the conversational segments and this just simply took me out of the story.
Therefore, due to this, I landed on a 3-star verdict for Rebus: Long Shadows, however, I found the general plot very intriguing and the characters are very relatable and compelling for the audience. Just be prepared to have to concentrate very carefully on a lot of dialogue and take in, and memorise, a lot of information which, I am not always the greatest fan of.
Rebus: Long Shadows is running at Cardiff’s New Theatre until Saturday the 9th of Feb, and you can book your tickets here. After this, it will continue on tour throughout the country, and you can find further information here.