Rebus: Long Shadows hit the news this week. A new incarnation of the Rebus story from local and internationally famed writer Ian Rankin, was bound to attract some attention – along with a loyal fan base. But it was when the lead actor and star draw, Charles Lawson (previously of Coronation Street), took ill and had to leave the stage during the press night, that the drama got real. It was understudy Neil McKinven who finished the show that night and played the title role throughout. On the night I was in, (the following one) McKinven’s valiant performance would have been barely distinguishable as a last minute swap-in, were it not for the script in his hand and subtley referred to, for the last quarter of the piece. A classically trained actor (RADA no less), McKinven certainly impressed as a realistic and authentic Rebus, despite the huge strain of being thrust into quite such a bright limelight, so soon into a run.
It’s difficult to estimate the effect of such changes on a cast and production, but it’s likely that it had little effect on the overall experience for the audience – which was, a little dull. The narrative arc was of course, an effective one – this comes from one of the greatest crime writers of all time. But the piece lacked in terms of dynamic staging and, in some cases, in terms of script.
Series of conversations ensue throughout, and despite very many fantastically witty lines (well delivered) from John Rebus, these conversations do not enthrall. Cathy Tyson is strong as Rebus’s side kick and John Stahl makes for a believable ‘baddy’. The same cannot be said for Eleanor House and Dani Heron who play murdered women who haunt the detective. While minor characters, they are an important part of setting the scenes of the working class Edinburgh dockland areas. They’re capable actresses, but somewhat miscast and would be utterly out of place in the pubs they’re said to have frequented (more New Town or Morningside than pre-gentrification Leith and Newhaven), so it all feels a very theatrical affair.
The staging is appropriately bleak and at times creative, but otherwise unremarkable. The story is a good one and the twist draws us in, but this is otherwise pedestrian. Lovers of the genre and the character will no doubt be thrilled to see his return. So, even if this isn’t the most inspiring piece of theatre ever presented, Long Shadows is likely to be a crowd pleaser and ticket seller.
Rebus: Long Shadows runs at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh until Saturday 13th October.