rebus and clarke

Cathy Tyson as Siobhan Clarke and Charles Lawson as Rebus. Pictures: Robert Day

Rebus: Long Shadows

Birmingham Rep


Aficionados of Ian Rankin's maverick Edinburgh detective John Rebus will feel right at home in his first venture on to the stage in a play populated by familiar faces.

The cantankerous old copper is retired these days, not that you would know it as he takes on an investigation that has haunted him for the past 17 years. No warrant card? No worries.

The world of old school Rebus - left school at 15, university of life and all that, and not averse to stretching rules to breaking point, or even ignoring them completely - has given way to the new policing of his protégé, university educated, all done by the book DI Siobhan Clarke.

Not that old school has gone completely with Rebus’s nemesis Big Ger Cafferty still ruling large as Auld Reekie’s crime boss, a man whose opponents are quickly and efficiently despatched into the past tense – all with no link, at least if it ever comes to trial, with Big Ger.

The problem is that Rebus and Cafferty are not too far apart. Rebus is from that genre of crime thrillers where our hero detective is less than perfect, a flawed individual with a troubled mind, failed relationships and few friends, a loner earning grudging respect from the good, the bad and, no doubt, the ugly, who teeters on the very edge of the line that divides right from wrong.

Cafferty is cut from much the same cloth, it’s just sewn differently. He inhabits the other, darker side of the line, but keeps close enough to it, publicly at least, to live his loathsome life tantalisingly just out of reach of Rebus and his like.

The problem is that both are flawed and both have a past that is waiting to rear up and bite them, which is the crux of Long Shadows.


John Stahl as the sinister Cafferty with Rebus, as he seems to have been for so long, hovering over his shoulder

It opens when Rebus finds a young girl, Heather, in the stairwell of the building where he lives. Knowing the dangers faced by young girls in the early hours he tries, in his grumpy way, to help. inadvertently, opening up an old case that has sat in his mind like a sore for the past 17 years.

Charles Lawson, perhaps best known as Jim McDonald in Coronation Street, is a convincing Rebus, an unsmiling, uncompromising, difficult detective, tetchy, argumentative and, even retired, still bending the rules and defying authority.

Rebus goes through the play never quite drunk, but, you suspect, never quite sober; he seems driven by the past, still following his ingrained rogue copper instincts of stopping the bad men any way he can,.

Cathy Tyson is a perfect foil as DI Clarke, fond of her mentor, Rebus, but also frightened that his past, his indiscretions, his ways of policing could threaten the conviction of Mordaunt, the plumber police, including Rebus, had been after for almost 20 years, convinced he is the rapist and murderer in a series of killings at the turn of the century.

Advances in DNA detection have put Mordaunt back in the frame – but a shadow from Rebus’s past hangs over the upcoming trial.

Then there is John Stahl as Cafferty. Stahl gives us a crime lord boastful of his success, living – alone – in his penthouse apartment, the epitome of genial evil. Stahl manages the difficult task of creating a man who is sinister, frightening even, yet all done with a smile and without lifting a finger in anger – cheery malevolence.

Eleanor House is Heather, the flighty, self-confident, even bolshie teenager who sets the play in motion, she is also her own dead mother Maggie, appearing as a questioning, rebuking ghost in Rebus’s troubled mind, while Dani Heron, is the ghost of Angela, a Mordaunt victim, who troubles both Clarke, looking to avenge her death, and Rebus, whose past could deny her justice.

Then there is Mordaunt himself, played by Neil McKinven, who police have fingered for one rape and murder, but who might have shone a glimmer of light on a second, the death of Rebus's accusing ghost. McKinven also plays Andy, who lives in a flat in Rebus’s block with no visible means of support apart from a suspected, should we say, pharmaceutical business. A dangerous game as he is to discover.

Ti Green’s setting in this world premiere production is a masterpiece of simplicity. A sweeping, arcing staircase which gives height and different levels, whether to Rebus’s flat or to the haunt of ghosts. A few chairs, a sliding wall and a bank of evidence lockers from the flies appear through the gloom of Rebus’s run down life.

The only colour the dingy club that was once a drinker’s pub and Cafferty’s crime capital of a flat where clever lighting turns hard, stone walls into the light modern panels of a house with dubious taste.

Chahine Yavroyan and Simon Bond use the lighting cleverly to pick out moments and characters to provide many scenes on the same set while Robin Lefevre’s direction builds the tension up to the final showdown – but Rebus’s creator Rankin and his collaborator, playwright Rona Munro, are not going to leave it there.

There is an unexpected final twist which, if not an all out justification, at least softens the dilemma we feel at what had gone before, and then there is the final prophesy, one we know will one day come true . . . perhaps even on stage.

Well acted, well directed, beautifully set and lit, this Birmingham Rep co production is a treat not only Rebus fans but for anyone who enjoys a good crime thriller. To 06-10-18

Roger Clarke


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