Tag Archives: Mark Thomson

REVIEW: Dark Road – The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

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This article was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews

Writers: Ian Rankin & Mark Thomson

Director: Mark Thomson

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★☆

Crime fiction may be the biggest selling literary genre in the UK but excepting the output of the late ‘Queen of Crime’ Agatha Christie, it hasn’t exactly figured large on the theatrical stage. Britain’s biggest selling crime novelist Ian Rankin and Lyceum artistic director Mark Thomson have set about redressing the balance in their psychological crime thriller Dark Road.

Isobel McArthur (Maureen Beattie) is a thirty year police veteran, Scotland’s first female Chief Constable, mother to a challenging 18 year old daughter and fast approaching retirement with a nagging doubt that just won’t go away. Was the conviction of Alfred Chalmers (Philip Whitchurch), on the basis of a single piece of flimsy forensic evidence, for the murder of four young Edinburgh women, sound? 25 years on Isobel decides to revisit the case to the horror of both her fellow officers and her daughter. The doubts escalate to the point where Isobel questions everything and everyone she knows.

If the measure of a play’s success is the quietness of its audience, coupled with unwavering gazes and complete stillness for the duration of a performance, then Dark Road is unquestionably a winner. Save for occasional gasps, some collective jaw-dropping and one lonely cough, the audience sat enthralled for the entirety of its two and a half hour running time. Dark Road retains the complexities and gritty realism of Rankin’s books and like any good crime novel provides enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing until the very last scene. The only criticism that could be levelled at the piece is that there are a couple of scenes of slightly unnatural and at times, clunky dialogue but these are entirely understandable and necessary due to the theatrical constraints; everything has to be played out and stated on stage for the story to be established. That said, they don’t in anyway detract from the overall quality or pace of the piece. The second act is a masterclass in psychological drama, ramping up both the thrills and tension at a head-spinning pace.

The central performances are of such a universally high quality that it seems churlish to single anyone out but Beattie’s strength and authority shines through in her highly convincing portrayal of Isobel. Ron Donachie, as ever, brings a gravelly gravitas to the role of retired Inspector McLintock and Philip Whitchurch, is in turn chilling and convincingly innocent as Chalmers.

The set design by Francis O’Connor, is a marvel, rotating and transforming, twisting and turning to reflect the plot and coupled with an almost subliminal sound design by composer Philip Pinsky is significant  in helping establish the unsettling atmosphere that pervades throughout.

To say that Ian Rankin’s debut play has been much anticipated is an understatement and there is no doubt that this is an audience pleaser. Utterly gripping, gritty and great entertainment, this is a welcome and long overdue addition to the theatrical thriller genre.

Runs until 19 October

REVIEW: Takin’ Over the Asylum – Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

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Credit – Tim Morozzo

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews

Writer: Donna Franceschild

Director: Mark Thomson

Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★½

A play that has at its heart the issue of mental health wouldn’t seem like a likely choice for an evening’s entertainment, but Donna Franceschild’s stage adaptation of her acclaimed 1994 BBC TV series Takin’ Over the Asylum doesn’t just entertain; this tightly written and sharply crafted play is funny, heart-breaking and genuinely inspiring in equal measure.

Through the course of the narrative, the subtle cruelties of those charged with “caring” for the patients is shown and each character reveals the true nature of their illness and the heart-rending reasons for it. This roller-coaster ride of a play puts its audience through the emotional wringer: bringing laughter in one breath and tears the next, and all only possible through the combination of a taught script and some of the most affecting acting performances you are likely to see.

The sheer range and depth of emotion that Iain Robertson in the pivotal role of Eddie manages to convey is stunningly impressive: turning on a knife edge between despair, heart-break and happiness and doing it all with an utterly compellingly believability is testament to his phenomenal talent. That in the mercurial role of Campbell, (Brian Vernel) is an actor who doesn’t graduate from his training for another year almost beggars belief. They are ably supported by Helen Mallon as the vulnerable Francine, Caroline Paterson as germ-obsessed Rosalie and Grant O’Rourke as the tragic Fergus.

It could be argued that this is a less than convincing portrayal of mental health care in 2013, but the issues raised and attitudes highlighted have changed depressingly little since its source material was broadcast nearly twenty years ago. Ultimately though, this is a celebration of the truly good-hearted and an illustration of the fine line between sanity and so-called “madness”.

Often thought-provoking, occasionally tragic and always compelling, this production isn’t flawless but it’s as damn near close as you’ll get – unmissable.

Runs until: 9 March