Dark Road Lyceum Theatre

I’ve been looking forward for months to seeing this new play by Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson. I’m a big fan of Ian Rankin’s books and enjoyed the TV Rebus dramatisations so was interested to see how his writing talents would transfer to the stage. It turns out Rankin hasn’t actually written the play, it was a collaboration where he provided the “storyboard” and characters, while the dialogue was written by Thomson who also directs.

The subject matter will be familiar to crime fiction fans – Alfred Chalmers is a serial killer, having killed four young girls in particularly gruesome circumstances. In fact the subject matter is surely overfamiliar these days, with a succession of dramatisations such as The Killing and the Red Riding trilogy covering a lot of the same ground. (What about a female serial killer of men for a change, why are the women always helpless victims?) Even the strong female lead character, Isobel McArthur (Maureen Beattie) who is Scotland’s first police Chief Superintendent, turns out to be a victim of her own real and imagined demons. She has troubles at home in her relationship with her 18 year old daughter and problems at work where, instead of happily celebrating 30 years in the force and a chance to retire, she starts to revisit the case of Chalmers who she helped to convict 25 years earlier on the flimsiest of evidence.

The dialogue and timing are a bit clunky at times, particularly in the first half. More could be made of the relationships between the characters, their interactions are a bit too contrived and over the top to engage our sympathies with any of them. On the plus side the set, sound and lighting are amazing.

The set revolves to reveal the different rooms – Isobel’s living room, her office, the mental hospital and huge images of the murdered girls are projected onto the revolving walls. The disturbing score in the background adds to the air of unease and there are some shocks and scary moments to keep our attention. I’m sure there will be plenty of crime fiction fans who aren’t regular theatre goers who will be attracted by the Ian Rankin name and if this encourages more theatre going then I’m all for it. However, for me, whilst I’m always willing to go with the flow and suspend disbelief, it all just seemed to be a bit preposterous and left me thinking “so what”? I found it a bit disappointing, given my initial expectations. I think I’ll stick to the Rankin books in future.

Irene Brownlee