Crime is the order of the day to be solved in a new story about Ian Rankin’s long-standing character, who was moving towards his twilight years. As an admirer of the Rebus audiobooks borrowed from Nottingham libraries, there was always welcome tension applied to the steering wheel on long motorway journeys. So, the anticipation was high when envisaging how this gripping 2-D flawed character was going to translate from past novels, to original script, to his premier appearance on the stage, was going to be a ride and a half.
Rebus (Michael Davies) is a retired detective haunted by a past that steps into his present when a cold case gradually warms up and turns hot with the arrival of Heather (Eleanor House). Rebus is a calculating man, not too jaded, but conscious of what buttons to push that spell danger. Michael’s presence helped to drive the story through quite admirably with dry humour and an old-school approach to figuring out ‘whodunnit’ in the style of a puzzle, say a crossword.
The set was a dark grey, almost slate palette placed on a diagonal downstage to upstage, with steps leading up to a balcony corridor. This provided creative ways to tell the story in different rooms without losing yourself completely in the scenes which flicked from present to past and room to workplaces. The minimalist use of one chair centre stage was quite impressive in various scenes, providing a metaphor for loneliness that engulfed the characters central to the story.
The shadow of work just seemed to follow Rebus from his tenement where he encounters his first mystery to solve which then leads to his ex-colleague and friend Siobhan (Cathy Tyson) detailing a second crime to solve. Even before the play began, a member of the audience had heckled loudly about Cathy being the actress from the 1990’s TV series, Band of Gold, so there was an expectation of feisty energy from this fine actress/producer. Yet at the interval, it was noted that Cathy’s surprisingly subdued performance as a senior detective was stiff and her repetitive use of a hanky suggested that maybe Cathy was ill as opposed to a character trait. Siobhan, Maggie (Eleanor House) and Angela (Dani Heron) did provide Rebus with some headaches that led him to gradually tear the two cases apart, whilst annoying his conscience.
This original script layers its adaptation (Rona Munroe) in a what-goes-around-comes-around tale, bringing the past to bear witness to the future (no spoilers!). Yet, the pace seemed so much slower than what I had experienced in many a Rebus’ audiobook. Perhaps this was to match the rhythm of the audience demographic. Or maybe it was to allow the ghosts haunting the reasonable, but often anguished Rebus to cast their shadows into his next chapter. Ian Rankin is said to be working on the next crime novel, which with no doubt will place Rebus as a welcome cat amongst the pigeons once again.
‘Rebus: Long Shadows’ is at Nottingham's Theatre Royal until on 27 October 2018.