Theatre review - Rebus: Long Shadows, at Opera House Manchester

Cathy Tyson as Siobhan Clarke and Charles Lawson as Rebus

Cathy Tyson as Siobhan Clarke and Charles Lawson as Rebus - Credit: Archant

An excellent performance from Charles Lawson brings the tricky Rebus: Long Shadows, to life, says Kate Houghton

Charles Lawson as Rebus, a haunted man

Charles Lawson as Rebus, a haunted man - Credit: Archant

I have read most of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, although I have given up on them of late, as the grumpy Rebus sank to depths where I simply couldn’t be bothered to follow him. It was this morose, alcohol-fuelled misery of a man characterisation that really concerned me – how would that translate to the stage, where keeping audiences awake through what was sure to be a tricky storyline was the preferred course?

Luckily, Charles Lawson takes our Rebus and gives him a bit of a shake. His version of the dour Scottish detective is given a life and energy sadly lacking in some of the novels. Yes, he has great material to work with, the one liners he’s given are absolutely cracking and the dialogue brilliantly written, but it is his every movement - a slight limp and an occasional stiff shuffle, a sudden stillness as a penny drops, a sharp move into action as he applies police pressure the old-fashioned way – and a seriously excellent accent, that really brings Rebus to life. I could watch him in action for hours and hours.

John Stahl as 'Big Ger' Cafferty and Charles Lawson as Rebus
Credit: Robert Day

John Stahl as 'Big Ger' Cafferty and Charles Lawson as Rebus Credit: Robert Day - Credit: Archant

Sadly the same can’t be said for Cathy Tyson, in the role of Siobhan Clarke. This is frustrating, as I know she’s a great actress. Perhaps this simply isn’t the role for her. It was the delivery of her lines that bothered me, always the same, always rather loud and strident, no shade or tone. You could sense a genuine fondness in her character for Rebus, and the history between them showed, but surely more emotion would have been possible? It was as if she had been given one piece of direction at the start of the play and no guidance thereafter.

John Stahl’s Big Ger Cafferty is a treat. A smooth demeanour overlays a barely restrained menace and potential for instant, vicious, violence. As his big scene progresses, we see his crowing and big man showing off in another light however, and a vulnerability shows through – loneliness. It’s all very well being the big, scary crime boss, but age takes us all.

Of course, taking any murder mystery novel to the stage is a complex task, and I did wonder how this might work with such a multi-faceted storyline as Rebus has developed into over the series. A wise decision was made however to write a whole new story, which allowed playwright Rona Munro to take what could otherwise have been something with more layers than a mille feuille and present a storyline everybody in the audience could follow – although I did hear one departing audience member mutter that he’d lost the plot in the second half, to be told by his wife she’d explain in the car! A retired Rebus, haunted by the ghosts of two dead girls, takes it upon himself to solve the crimes and lay the past to rest. His efforts are stalled by Big Ger, who has his own plans for Rebus’ retirement, and for him, revenge is sweet.

Personally, I not only followed, but delighted in the increasingly clever weaving together of what initially appeared as disparate threads. Oh, and the ending! As they say, blood is hard to scrub out… Very clever.

Most Read

Rebus: Long Shadows plays at Manchester Opera House till Saturday 3 November.