Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford – until 24th November 2018
Reviewed by Antonia Hebbert
A grumpy, tormented detective with a crumpled look investigates the gruesome murders of teenage girls. Sometimes crime fiction feels like your oldest jumper – familiar, comfortable and rather revolting. And like your old jumper, it may be baggy in places, with surprising twists.
Ian Rankin published his first Rebus detective novel in 1987, and there have been lots more books and TV adaptations since then. This is the first Rebus stage play, written by Rankin with playwright Rona Munro. By now Rebus (a convincingly weary Charles Lawson) is old and tired. An odd meeting with a girl on his tenement staircase leaves him haunted by unsolved mysteries of two decades ago. He is retired, but a procedural shortcut he took in the past (whacking a crook on the head with a plank) may be about to jeopardise an important murder investigation. Cathy Tyson plays the determined former colleague who is trying to get the truth out of him. With her capable manner, she gives us a sense that Rebus and his ways are out of date. There is much talk of DNA evidence. She also points out that murders of teenage girls are rather rare, which makes you wonder why this is yet another crime plot involving young female victims. Eleanor House and Dani Heron are the accusing ghosts of murders past; Neil McKinven plays almost everyone else, which is sometimes confusing. Characters from past and present overlap and emerge out of the shadows in Ti Green’s dark, sparse set (atmospherically lit by Chahine Yavroyan and Simon Bond). It is beautiful and elegant, like an abstract painting, but doesn’t have the feel of Edinburgh’s murky underside that Rebus fans might expect.
There is a change of pace in the second half, as Rebus faces his arch-foe ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty, played by a splendidly villainous John Stahl. This is all a bit more fun, as Cafferty savours his expensive wine and lofty views, not quite but nearly saying ‘mwah ha ha, now I have you in my power.’ And then there’s the twist which rather niftily picks up the loose threads and brings them together in a surprising way. Clever stuff, but not utterly compelling.