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Rebus: Long Shadows review at Birmingham Repertory Theatre – ‘pensive, plodding police drama’

Charles Lawson in Rebus: Long Shadows at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Photo: Robert Day
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Chafing against retirement and a lingering alcohol problem, Ian Rankin’s maverick detective John Rebus cracks open a cold case in this latest instalment of the long running crime series, the first time the character has appeared on stage.

An original story developed by author Rankin and playwright Rona Munro, Rebus: Long Shadows nevertheless revolves around characters familiar to existing fans, their complicated interrelationships providing most of the drama here. However, the mystery at the story’s heart never really grips, the plot developing fitfully through clunky blurts of exposition or abrupt passages of bleakly poetic language.

It isn’t best served by director Robin Lefevre’s staging, which feels small and static in a large, sparse performance space where characters sit in conversation while the ghosts of murdered women loom from banks of billowing fog or pop out of cupboards, shouting to be heard.

Ti Green’s moody multi-storey set envisages an ominous city of darkened doorways and concrete stairs, all set off by a stark, noirish lighting design by Chahine Yavroyan and Simon Bond, which alternates between ochre half-light and bursts of blinding white.

Charles Lawson makes a suitably gruff and cantankerous Rebus, finely balancing the conflicting demands of hard-boiled posturing and laconic humour. Cathy Tyson is strong as his by-the-book former colleague Siobhan, railing furiously as she becomes snared between loyalty and duty.

Opposite them, John Stahl evidently enjoys his role as colourful career criminal Cafferty, flaunting his wealth and continued freedom as he artfully manipulates the police.

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This pensive, plodding police drama makes for a downbeat return for Ian Rankin’s popular detective