Rebus: Long Shadows, New Theatre Cardiff

February 8, 2019 by

Having read several Rebus novels and having seen several episodes of the TV series, I was quite intrigued to see how the gritty detective ‘Rebus’ would fare on stage.
In this new story, written by Ian Rankin and adapted for the stage by Rona Munroe, we meet John Rebus, retired and in his mid-60’s and no-longer drinking. At the opening of the play a chance meeting with the daughter of a victim of an unsolved murder inspires Rebus to get back on the horse and fall off the wagon!
The cast perform with conviction, though the small-scale performances, gritty realism which make the TV series so compelling, fail to translate in the beautiful 1.100-seater New Theatre. Ron Donachie makes a captivating Rebus (reprising his role from the BBC R4 adaptations) with many of the more witty lines delivered beautifully. S and special praise should go to Ellen Bannerman, the understudy, for taking on the role of Siobahn Clarke (though confusion reigned for a short period as the audience had to suspend their disbelief that this recent graduate could play a detective with 25 years detective work under her belt!). Other cast members perform well (including Neil McKinven who plays multiple parts with a good degree of differentiation) but are let down by moments of poor direction and an overly wordy script.
While the premise: an ex police detective, haunted by his conscience, may seem promising ground for a play, sadly the story (whilst it may have worked in print or on screen) fails to transition to the stage. Although the narrative arc is sound, the piece is a dialogue heavy, a stringing together of lengthy discussions with Rebus and his arch nemesis ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty (ably played by John Stahl) or his former mentee Siobahn Clarke. All of which leads to an underwhelming final ‘showdown’ for Rebus and Cafferty in the latter’s Penthouse. The script relies heavily on prior knowledge of the character to work and even then, requires a great deal of concentration from the audience to follow the many plot points running through the play. I must admit to missing dialogue and becoming lost on more than one occasion!
The set, by Ti Green, is one of the highlights of the production. Comprising large, grey flats, a raised area upstage and a curved staircase leading to it. The minimalistic set is used to portray locations around Edinburgh; from the stairwell of a block of flats, where we first meet Rebus; to his flat; a rough, dockland pub; and a Penthouse apartment. Although used well, the set wasn’t particular to Rebus and although hinted at location, the set, and the play in general is lacking a real sense of ‘place’, which we get from the books and the TV incarnation. It could easily serve as a set for any number of plays from Macbeth to Rent!
Robin Lefevre’s direction is conventional and occasionally sloppy. The long lingering stares to the front of the house, and the overused chorus device of the two murder victims who (although are played well by Dani Heron and Eleanor House) pop up with alarming regularity to taunt Rebus or to change the set mean that any tension which is built during the shorter of the exchanges, vanishes quickly and occasionally comically (when the chorus pops out from the evidence locker for example!).
Overall, if you are a fan of Rebus in print or on the small screen, you may well enjoy this outing on stage, though you might prefer to stick with the books to really grasp the nuances of the character, the feeling of place, and the witty dialogue which a good Rebus novel can deliver.

Until February 9

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