Theatre review: Ian Rankin's Dark Road, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

 

A scene from Dark Road, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
A scene from Dark Road, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

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.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in