Pictured: Rebecca Walters and Paul Herbert. Photo by Derek Fu
Dark, gritty British police drama. That’s what I got when I looked up the play beforehand. For me, this felt like something new and old at the same time. I was more used to detective dramas and novels, but it should be similar enough, right? Yes and no- it was edgier than I expected. The opening scene, especially with the superb lighting and sound design, capture this eerie, mysterious tone of the play perfectly. However, the rest falls a little short and fails to keep up the tension.
Because the focus was on the big reveal about whether or not Alfred Chalmers (Paul Herbert) was the murderer or not, the other elements, like the fox mask, felt like more of a distraction from the core mystery and was not too cohesive. The scenes, especially with Frank (Anthony Santiago) and Chief Supt. Isobal McArthur (Rebecca Walters) were repetitive and without clear motives or resolutions. Also, the actors stumble on the lines a little bit, and I’m not sure if it’s the accent that’s giving them trouble or the awkward dialogue. The plot is exciting but the fact the characters lack depth and motivation does not help the actors, either.
The play attempts to capture the thrilling mystery of a well-written novel, but it could have been condensed a lot more into a more dense and packed play. I kept getting the feeling that the play would work a lot better as a novel, and considering that Ian Rankin is primarily a crime novel writer and that this is his first play, it makes a lot of sense.
However, there were some notable performances from Alysson Hall (Alexandra McArthur) and Rebecca Walters (Isobel McArthur). Though they were shaky at the scenes that required more connection and interaction between the characters, the actors captured intense emotions such as fear, anxiety and betrayal very well.
This Canadian premiere of Dark Road by Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson and directed by Chris Lam is being produced as part of Ensemble Theatre Company’s 6th Annual Summer Repertory Festival. They also have The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh and A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin running simultaneously as part of the festival. Check it out if you’re interested in dark and dramatic murder mysteries.