Tag Archives: Neil McKinven

Uptown Top Rankin


The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 25th September, 2018


The character of John Rebus is familiar to many from the novels of Ian Rankin and their television adaptations.  Here, he is brought to life by Charles Lawson (formerly Jim Macdonald off of Coronation Street) in this first-ever stage version, adapted by Rona Munro. Lawson is a compelling, dishevelled presence, a sleeping lion of a man whose exterior belies the power he retains.  In retirement, he has lost none of the faculties that made him a good detective, and is still able to resort to, shall we call it ‘active persuasion’ to get the information he seeks.

The arrival of the daughter of a long-ago murder victim brings Rebus out of his Edinburgh flat and on the hunt for a resolution to the cold case.  Meanwhile, his mentee Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke (the mighty Cathy Tyson) is keen to get a serial rapist/murderer banged up.  Suddenly, Rebus is juggling two investigations, and the involvement of nasty piece of work crime lord ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty brings to light a dark secret from the former detective’s past…

It’s an intriguing if wordy tale, heavy on the exposition but played with conviction so it never falls short of gripping – and there are more laughs in it than you might expect.  Director Robin Lefevre maintains a naturalistic if intense style from his small but excellent cast, played against Ti Green’s stylised set – a sweeping staircase and foreboding walls that would not be out of place in an opera house.  Garth McConaghie’s original music is moody and urgent, befitting the thriller aspects of the story, and his sound design is disquieting.  The crimes are kept off-stage but are evoked by the dramatic device of having a couple of victims (Dani Heron and Eleanor House) appearing to haunt and taunt Rebus with his failure to secure a conviction and get them the justice they deserve.

Lawson and Tyson make an abrasive double act – we sense the mutual respect beneath the barbs and the jibes – but it is the scenes between Lawson and Big Ger (John Stahl) that make all the backstory worthwhile.  Stahl is menacingly charismatic, contrasting with Lawson’s comparatively passive presence, as Rebus apparently effortlessly manages the situation…  There is strong support from Neil McKinven in a couple of roles, and Eleanor House as Heather, the young femme fatale of the piece.

The waters are muddied.  This is no black-and-white crime story.  The morality is as murky as an Edinburgh fog.  One thing is unequivocal: Tyson yearns for a world in which men never attack women.  Looking at the current state of American politics, that world seems a long way off.

A stylish, involving piece, slickly presented and expertly played.  I would not be averse to seeing further Rebus stories staged in this way.

Rebus_Cathy Tyson as Siobhan Clarke & Charles Lawson as Rebus_c Robert Day (2)

Cathy Tyson and Charles Lawson (Photo: Robert Day)



Moments of Madness


The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 17th June, 2014


Susan (Meg Fraser) is living a middle-class nightmare. The love has gone from her marriage to vicar Gerald (Richard Conlon), her son hasn’t spoken to her since he joined some kind of sect in Hemel Hempstead, and her sister-in-law is slowly poisoning them all with her atrocious cooking. When she wakes from a bump on the head, Susan gets to sample a different life, with an idyllic family, sexy husband (Andrew Wincott) and grounds to an estate that goes on for miles… Susan is increasingly confused: which is real?

Marilyn Imrie directs Alan Ayckbourn’s comic drama so that Susan’s confusion doesn’t translate to our enjoyment. We see hallucinated characters react to Susan’s real life family, and it’s gloriously funny. Thanks to a powerhouse of a central performance from Meg Fraser, Susan’s tragedy is also apparent. The blending of real and hallucinated is supported by Ti Green’s impressive set, which houses Susan’s real garden in a dreamlike landscape of tree trunks and a suspended box on which projections are made and in which characters from Susan’s imagination appear, along with some atmospheric music composed by Pippa Murphy.

Fraser is supported by a strong ensemble. Richard Conlon makes a fine comedy vicar and infuriating husband, while Neil McKinven as the doctor, bridges the gap between the real and the imagined. Irene Macdougall is good value as sister-in-law Muriel, and Scott Hoatson brings sensitivity to selfish son Rick.

In Ayckbourn’s assured hands, the sitcom-ness of Susan’s home life is transformed into a tragic-comedy of a woman’s decline into mental illness. It’s Fraser’s performance that dominates and impresses in a production that never falls short of entertaining – as Susan’s mental state unravels, the more we feel for her.

A co-production between the REP and Dundee Rep Ensemble, Woman in Mind continues the Birmingham theatres run of excellent productions, and demonstrates yet again why Ayckbourn is one of our most important playwrights.