Photo: Robert Day
Charlie Resnick is Nottingham’s most famous fictional detective. He’s featured in eleven police procedural novels by John Harvey, as well as a collection of short stories. Back in the early 1990s we were treated to two television outings (Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment) with Tom Wilkinson starring as the Jazz-loving, sandwich-making part-Polish detective. The beauty of Harvey’s writing is that he never nails the specifics of Resnick’s appearance, thereby leaving the reader to fill in the blanks.
In this premier production David Fleeshman is cast in the lead role of Darkness Darkness, the last in the Resnick series, and more or less met my expectations in that he had middle age spread, was not too concerned with his appearance, and had that lumbering air of loneliness about him.
The plot centres round the discovery of a dead body by, rather aptly, a Polish worker. It turns out to be a young woman called Jenny Hardwich (Elizabeth Twells) who was murdered during the Miners’ Strike. Resnick, who is nearing retirement, is asked to stay on the case by his replacement Catherine Njoroge (Simone Saunders) , forcing him to dig back into the past and his role as a copper during the bitter feuds of the 1980s.
Surprisingly, Resnick was not the star of the show. This goes to an innovate stage production that used sliding screens and a moveable centre stage (that acted as various front rooms and a police interrogation room) to take us back and forth in time and across locations. Acts were broken up with the use of some evocative visuals that took us back to the Strikes, the most impressive of which was the overlay of brain scans and a skull over the face of the missing girl. This gave the production a really eerie feel.
Another very good technical device was the use of ‘echoing’ when dead characters from Resnick’s past came back to speak to him. This helped present Resnick’s inner mind, the most difficult element of making that transition from page to the stage, as well as help direct audience expectations in what otherwise could have been a confusing narrative given the play jumps back and forth in time.
However, overall I felt this production lacked tension and some of the characters felt like convenient sketches. This was, essentially, a novel shoehorned into a two hour play. For example, Catherine Njoroge, a Black female detective, experiences violence from a former lover. I would not expect a woman who would have experienced unbelievable prejudice to get into the position of D.I, to be so gullible. To be fair, violence against women is a theme that runs throughout the play and the message is that it’s as prevalent now as it was thirty years ago. So I can understand why it is important to show that anybody can be a victim of crime. But it didn’t work for me. When the 6ft actress later appeared on stage wearing an eye patch it looked farcical, like a Black version of Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill.
Another scene that could have been better developed involved Keith Haines, a copper played by Martin Miller. During the Strike he drops five pounds into a collection bucket for striking miners. This is received gratefully by Jill Haines (Emma Thornett). This is an important part of the play as it gives us an early indication into the motivations of a central character. But would family of striking miners have accepted the money of a copper so gratefully, given how much the police made from overtime during the strikes? I’d have told the bastard to dig a lot deeper into his pockets or at least questioned why he was donating money. This was not the place to be subtle.
Despite these criticisms, I did enjoy the play. And the audience loved the references to familiar Resnick haunts such as the Peacock pub on Mansfield Road as well as the interludes of jazz music. It may have lacked the tension and character development required of the genre, but this may be because it was really about a much loved detective bowing out. The ‘Darkness’ of the title may relate to the pit strikes and the difficulties faced by many communities left to rot by a Tory government, but it is more about the inner darkness of Charlie Resnick. A lonely man, widowed, leaving a career that has shaped his identity, facing the difficult prospect of old age and retirement.
Darkness Darkness runs from 30 September - 15 October at the Nottingham Playhouse