‘Dark Road’ (Lyceum: 25 Sept – 19 Oct ’13)

Robert Gwilym as Frank Bowman , Ron Donachie as Fergus McLintock and Maureen Beattie as Isobel McArthur

Image by Douglas McBride

“The production is a mixed bag in most regards.”

Editorial Rating: Unrated

Ian Rankin is no stranger to Edinburgh’s criminal underworld –fictionally, of course. Inspector Rebus, Rankin’s most famous literary creation, is known to millions as the slightly off-beat but loveable curmudgeon, for whom this city’s cobbled streets are home. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that his theatrical debut (in collaboration with the Lyceum’s own Mark Thomson) is firmly rooted in this world.

It is twenty five years since the conviction of Alfred Chalmers for the murder and mutilation of four young Edinburgh women (there are definite comparisons to be made with the BBC’s hit series The Fall). This, combined with her thirtieth anniversary of being on the force, provokes Superintendent Isobel McArthur (Maureen Beattie) to reflect on what proved a land mark case in her career; or, more specifically, on a nagging doubt she has harboured since that day. Dredging up the past, however, reveals a well of raw emotions in both her closest work colleagues and her only daughter, Alexandra.

The production is a mixed bag in most regards. On the one hand, much of the writing is disappointingly predictable – not simply in terms of the plot, but also the inclusion of well-worn topics such as sexism in the police, the role of a policeman’s ‘hunch’ in conviction, and the bureaucratic barrier of paperwork that stands between policemen and ‘real police work’; a commentary that fails to really add any new angles on these issues. On the other, some of the writing is delicious – finding its strongest moments in scenes of quippy character interaction.

Similarly, a handful of characters were intensely believable – Philip Whitchurch’s portrayal of Alfred Chalmers was magnetic, managing to baffle the audience and leave us in a confused state, somewhere between terror and sympathy. But, at the other end of the spectrum, Sara Vickers (Alexandra) was lumped with a caricature of a teenage girl, whose mood swings between being angsty and angry, and as horny as a bitch in heat, leave her little room for development.

An area of no doubt, however, was staging – which was certainly the production’s strongest suit. The three room revolve worked incredibly well, particularly with the addition of corridors which provided both a realistic edge and an extra dimension to the performance. Furthermore, the soundtrack, ranging from a lamenting violin to Psycho inspired string segments, did much to add dramatic tension in scenes and maintain atmosphere between them; combining well with projections that slowly built a visual backstory for the audience.

Dark Road has the beginnings of a good production, but there is work to be done. It would benefit from some trimming – particularly in the first half, where certain scenes and ideas dragged on too long – and a more careful concealment of the plot to avoid the predictability that currently plagues it. As it stands, Dark Road is middle of the road.

Reviewer: Madeleine Ash (Seen 28 September)

Visit Dark Road homepage here.