Sinning with Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson…

Oct 21 2009 | By More

October 20th, 2009

There was a real buzz about the Royal Lyceum tonight, as novelist Ian Rankin joined the theatre’s Artistic Director Mark Thomson on the stage for a pre-performance discussion of Justified Sinner.

Thomson, of course, adapted James Hogg’s novel – indeed this production which he also directs is an updated version of the one he did when he was at the Brunton about ten years ago. Rankin was there by dint of his own fascination with the text. He’s written an introduction to a recent edition of the novel and is in the process of writing a film script from it.

The event was chaired by Edinburgh historian Owen Dudley Edwards, a specialist in the time that the novel is set: the early 18th Century when Scotland was just about to dissolve her own parliament and get back into bed with the Elephant.

Anyone going for a flash of Rebus – or even Rankin’s new detective Fox – would have been disappointed. Although Dudley Edwards did push Rankin into applying the duality of evil to Rebus’ relationship with Cafferty.

That was, however, the key to the whole talk. The nature of evil and where Robert, the Justified Sinner, sits in our perception of it. If someone commits an act of evil, is the person evil or is it the act? And once you know their background, can you you hate them as much?

It was a fascinating, if slightly shorter than expected, talk. Both Rankin and Thomson have clearly thought a lot about the book and the issues surrounding it. It was also interesting to hear Thomson talk about the way he has had change the narrative to turn it into a successful stage play – he has had to lose key elements.

Rankin was slightly at a loss in not having seen the production yet – he was booked into tonight’s performance he said. But issues such as how to portray a character without painting them only as bad, and how much to tell the audience/readership and how much to let them surmise for themselves, are common to all kinds of narrative.

Well worth the time, although Dudley Edwards is a rather brusque when it comes to chairing a panel discussion. He clearly knows his stuff but didn”t have much chance to say it – although preferable to those big egos who dominate any discussion they are supposed to be chairing. He’d have been far more interesting on the panel with a slightly more probing and subtle person in the chair to tease the conversation out.

Thom Dibdin

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