The Royal Lyceum’s 2013-14 season gets off to a World Premiere start with Ian Rankin’s debut play, Dark Road.
Where & When: Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh; Friday 27th September 2013; 7.45pm (Preview show)
It will come as no surprise that Ian Rankin’s theatre debt is a tense crime thriller set in Edinburgh. However, this is the only predictable part of this show. Isobel McArthur, the first female police chief constable of Edinburgh, is considering retirement after 30 years service, and this brings her to recall the case which made her career. Alfred Chalmers was convicted of murdering four young women in 1988, but as the play progresses, it seems she is not as comfortable with the outcome of the case as it might have seemed. Through reviewing the case files, Isobel becomes increasingly convinced something is not right, and this is compounded by the actions of her daughter and colleagues.
I don’t wish to give away too much of the plot, but it has some great twists and some startling moments (it’s been a long time since I’ve heard shrieks in the theatre from the audience!). The action is well paced, and the dramatic conclusion resolves the story very well.
There were weaknesses in the script, as is to be expected from a writer who is new to this genre. However, I think Rankin could go on to write excellent theatre, and possibly even better television and film scripts. He certainly has a flair for the kind of edge-of-your-seat drama needed, but has not had to compromise on the complexity of his characters to achieve it. Perhaps some roles were more incidental, but then this was really a play about the strange and co-dependent relationship between the cop and the criminal.
The set had some teething problems, but given that this was a preview, it was forgivable. However, the set was complex compared to the Lyceum’s usual style, and perhaps this was overambitious.
Taking the lead role of Isobel, Maureen Beattie captured her character’s depth, complexity and human fragility well. There was a high level of subtlety in her acting that was clearly communicated to the audience, drawing out a sympathy with her that made the shocking moments all the more hair-raising.
Sara Vickers as Alexandra and Robert Gwilyn as Frank provided excellent supporting characters, although neither were as well-developed in the script as Isobel, and consequently had less to work with. I did enjoy Phil Whitchurch as a deeply insane Alfred Chalmers. The other characters were all more cameos than anything else, but all were well acted – especially the lighter moments provided by Nicola Roy and Jonathan Holt in their roles as Janice and Brian, the young police officers.
If you don’t take this too seriously, and enjoy it for what it is, Dark Road is a great night out at the theatre. The story is engaging, the staging provides some real jump-out-of-your-skin moments and the two central characters of Chalmers and McArthur keep you gripped to the end. Shakespeare, it is not, but it is definitely more enjoyable than many other new works at the Lyceum in recent years which have tried to be intelligent, but fail to captivate the audience. I look forward to the TV adaptation in the future that this script is crying out for.
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥