REBUS: LONG SHADOWS AT THE ARTS THEATRE
I think I have just become a neophyte, so beware the zeal of the convert. I have never read any of Ian Rankin’s stories and so approached the new production: Rebus: Long Shadows with few preconceptions. Those I had were misplaced. What I expected was a traditional detective whodunit with lots of dead bodies and an Edinburgh bar full of suspects. Rebus is definitely not Hercule Poirot. Lest you think this was a disappointment, it was not. Not in any sense. It was in fact a thoroughly satisfying piece of drama with characters as strong as a pint of heavy and with that Scottish brew’s customary darkness.
Adapted by Rona Munro, this is a brand-new story adapted exclusively for the stage. It slowly evolved as a gripping piece of psychological theatre, a piercing insight into flawed human nature. Chief O’ the Clan Flawed was Rebus himself. Ron Donachie brought star quality to the role of the rotund, ageing; shambolic ex-policeman haunted by the ghosts of past murder victims whose killers Rebus never caught. They are like Hamlet’s father spectres demanding justice, tormenting our anti-hero’s fractured psyche. Donachie inhabited the part with gusto presenting a rounded (literally) character of a man for whom time has moved on leaving something of a shell behind. Yet there is life in that old dog yet - any more would be a rank(in) spoiler.
He was well supported by a small cast of five others most notably John Stahl who was chillingly appalling as a bling-wearing crime boss. There was an extended scene between Stahl and Donachie in which old wounds were opened, a battle royal of wills presented as a raw macho power game. It was thoroughly absorbing and as good as anything by David Mamet.
The set was a very clever allusion to Edinburgh’s tall, grey, granite buildings and dark twisting stairways in which all kinds of latter day Deacon Brodies lie in wait. The atmosphere chilled to zero thanks to highly creative lighting and sound designs. It was an unexpectedly satisfying evening of theatre, a detective story with real depth and sharp social commentary. It was also very funny. Rising over all was the performance by Donachie bringing the old rule-breaking detective to life. If this is what Rebus novels are like, I’ll be in the bookshop queue tomorrow. Make way for the zealous convert.