Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
The projection of what looks like a space storm beamed on to a huge steel-grey drum suggests that matters of intergalactic importance are about to unfold. As it is, novelist Ian Rankin's first stage play, written with Royal Lyceum artistic director Mark Thomson, doesn't quite scale those heights, though there are enough twists and turns in his Edinburgh-set yarn to keep audiences spellbound.
It opens with a nightmare, as top cop Isobel McArthur is awoken in her living room by ghosts from the past she can't shake off. Coming up for retirement, Isobel decides to write a book about her experiences, with one particular case from a quarter of a century ago dominating. That was when a man called Alfred Chalmers was imprisoned for the murders of four young women. Did he do it? Isobel isn't sure, and visits Alfred in search of clues. Isobel's sexually voracious teenage daughter Alexandra, meanwhile, has already begun making inquiries of her own.
The psychological cat and mouse game that follows is top-notch prime-time stuff in Thomson's co-production between the Royal Lyceum and Wales Millennium Centre, and Rankin fans will adore it even as they dissect every moment. There's an intelligence at play here that grasps what can be a hackneyed thriller genre and gives it a contemporary localised edge. There are shocks aplenty as the tension is racked up on Francis O'Connor's revolving set, with the scenes between Maureen Beattie's Isobel and Philip Whitchurch's Alfred electrifying at moments.
If the scrip needs paring down slightly, Rankin and Thomson have nevertheless produced a gripping piece of tartan noir that thrills and entertains in equal measure.