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Review: Rebus: Long Shadows (Birmingham Rep)

Ian Rankin's thriller comes to the stage for the first time

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Cathy Tyson as Siobhan Clarke and Charles Lawson as Rebus
© Robert Day

Ian Rankin's detective John Rebus finally makes his stage debut in this production premiering at Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

Rankin has worked with playwright Rona Munro to create a new story for the stage although it features characters familiar to readers of the Rebus novels.

Rebus is retired but the long shadows of his past come back to haunt him in the shape of unsolved murders and possible miscarriages of justice. A chance encounter sets him on a trail to revive a cold murder case – but in doing so he discovers that the past and the present can often intertwine.

Charles Lawson takes the part of Rebus, a careworn retiree who carries the scars of his former job and doesn't quite fit into the modern world. He fails to answer his mobile phone, doesn't buy milk for the fridge and spends too much of his time in his favourite armchair. Cathy Tyson is DI Siobhan Clarke, the modern policewoman who is determined to bring a killer to justice. Tyson's Clarke is tough-talking but has a kind heart which means she still harbours a soft spot for her former mentor.

Rebus' nemesis, crime boss Big Ger Cafferty, played by John Stahl, is a proud peacock of a man who flaunts his ill-gotten wealth but hides his own secrets under the brash exterior.

Directed by Robin Lefevre after Birmingham Rep artistic director Roxana Silbert had to pull out for personal reasons, the production is focussed on strong characters – not least the ghosts of murder victims Angela (Dani Heron) and Maggie (Eleanor House).

Its weakness is a convoluted plot which has to be explained in an over-lengthy scene between Rebus and Clarke when they re-live crime cases from 25 years ago in a discussion shared with the audience.

The plot is also flimsy in parts, asking for quite a hefty suspension of disbelief in terms of both its twists and some of the actions of the characters.

That being said, Rebus: Long Shadows is successful in appealing to both Rebus fans and people who have never read a Rankin book or seen any of the television adaptations. Those who know the characters will enjoy seeing them come to life on stage and those who don't will still be drawn into the plot.

Designed by Ti Green, the set is stark, comprising mostly of a large flight of stairs and a few bare pieces of furniture to designate Rebus' home. Chahine Yavroyan and Simon Bond's lighting picks up the idea of long shadows with bold spotlights and characters disappearing into the gloom.

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