Theatre review: Ian Rankin's Dark Road, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Monday 30 September 2013
Arguably Ian Rankin’s pre-existing fame as a crime novelist of some note is what holds his first play, written in collaboration with Lyceum artistic director Mark Thomson, back the most. For all Rankin’s experience as a writer, Dark Road is essentially still the work of a debut playwright dressed up and given prime billing amidst the Lyceum’s current season, and in places it can’t help but fold given the weight of expectation placed upon it.
An overriding failing which rings out on occasion during this pulpy genre piece is the apparent gulf between the novelistic language to which Rankin is used and the more natural modes of expression demanded by theatre. Early in the piece one can’t help but feel for veteran actor Ron Donachie, menacingly gruff as retired veteran cop Black Fergus McLintock, as he described a malevolent and now-imprisoned quadruple killer via a weighty slab of simile which must have looked fine on the page but which hangs ever-heavier when spoken.
The scene is a stark contrast to the taut first meeting on-stage between the always-engrossing Maureen Beattie’s protagonist Isobel McArthur - Scotland’s first female chief constable, now world-weary and approaching retirement – and that possibly-framed nemesis Alfred Chalmers, a disconcertingly genial Philip Whitchurch. While the latter scene is as sharp and decisive as an execution shot, some of the more self-consciously expository passages drag on painfully like a botched strangulation.
At its heart the play grasps tightly to the sensibility which makes Rankin’s books, particularly any which feature his key creation John Rebus, a success – that is, the impression that society’s peacekeepers are flawed and failing individuals muddling their way through an inexact trade. In this respect Beattie’s McArthur is strongly set up, her neuroses about whether her greatest result in a case was a lie driving her to overwork, hallucination and alcohol abuse, while her 18-year-old daughter Alexandra’s (a strong Sara Vickers) neediness rules the home, manifesting itself as noisy sex in the next room and an attempt to wrest away the Chalmers story for her own ambitious ends.
There’s quite a bit to recommend here, including a great cast, a stunningly ambitious rotating pedestal of sets designed by Francis O’Connor and a whodunit reveal which is typically Rankin, satisfyingly obvious and unexpected all at once. Yet even if the superficial presentational flaws are placed aside, it’s the fates of Isobel and Alexandra which leave the sourest taste in the mouth: neither ultimately in control, both manipulated at best, or simply portrayed as being too weak and soft of will to win the games of brutish men.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response from Ellen DeGeneres
- 2 What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
- 3 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 4 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
Amy Winehouse film director: 'I wanted to show the fun, bright-eyed girl we didn't know'
James Blunt was special guest on the highest-rating Top Gear episode ever
Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
Contemporary art is a fraud, says top dealer
Family Guy, BBC2 - review: The Simpsons crossover highlights gulf between the cartoons
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture