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Forbes Masson - Rebus: A Game Called Malice Interview

"It's not exactly Glass Onion, it's crystal thistle" is how actor Forbes Masson opens as he describes Ian Rankin and Simon Reade's new stage play Rebus: A Game Called Malice which he's currently rehearsing ahead of a run at Queen's Theatre Hornchurch this February.

"It's a detective show, I've not really done anything like this before, it's set in a middle-class Edinburgh home. Rebus is invited to a dinner party and they're playing a murder mystery game after the desserts. The play uncovers a lot of the darker secrets of the Edinburgh underbelly with hidden truths revealed and then it takes a twist." Forbes rightly doesn't want to give too much away and rightly so.

Ian Rankin's Rebus character has now spanned 24 books and TV adaptations with Ken Stott and John Hannah playing the role but this new story has been written exclusively for the stage. "Rebus is such a popular character. It's great that the novelist has done it himself. I met Ian once, centuries ago at The Everyman in Liverpool, he came to see King Lear when I was doing the film with Pete Postlethwaite. This is a new play, Robin Lefevre is directing and it's a great cast with John Michie playing Rebus."

The cast of Rebus: A Game Called Malice includes John Michie, Rebecca Charles, Billy Hartman, Emily Joyce, Forbes Masson and Emma Noakes.

Forbes takes on the role of Paul Godwin in the play and tells me "he's a property developer. He's clawed his way up, he's upper middle class now but I don't think he was to begin with. He's very money orientated. He's a bit of a wheeler-dealer".

The new production is produced by Queen's Theatre Hornchurch where it premieres from the 2nd to the 25th of February 2023. "It's a really great theatre, it's welcoming and warm. What's great about Hornchurch is that it feels like a part of the community here. I come into the cafe and there are people coming in for the Dementia workshops and there are kids coming in too. It's really great to be in a theatre that is alive during the day. It shows what a theatre can be."

With a new adaptation of a beloved character, our chat led towards if there was any kind of pressure in creating this new version. "There is a lot of freedom when you create a role because you are the first person to do it and you're not looking over your shoulder thinking of what someone else did with it. Invariably I don't ever do that. I always try and find it myself. The responsibility is the story has to be quite clear and that the audience is really following it. It's quite a traditional set, it's a drawing room and I've not done that sort of thing before. In that sort of way, it's old fashioned but the play isn't, it's quite clever in that respect, you think it's one thing and then it goes somewhere else."

With the rise of True Crime documentaries, TV shows like Line of Duty, and hit films like Knives Out and the recent sequel Glass Onion it feels somewhat like a renaissance time for the genre "It seems to be doesn't it. I watched the first Knives Out with my kids and we all watched Glass Onion over Christmas. It's brilliant. Everything is so shit at the moment and people want escapism and that's why there are so many musicals around. A play that is a whodunnit makes you try and work something out and you're active. It takes you away from thinking about everyday life."

The play centres on the dinner party and I posed Forbes the age-old question of who would be his dream guests to join him for one. "I'm so boring, I'm such a theatre-type person, so I'd probably have lots of theatre people. Actors of the past and of the present mixing together. Dull, a busman's holiday" he jokes.

Describing the show in 3 words Forbes says "Mystery, intrigue and revelation. Though it should be McMystery because it's set in Scotland". This turns our chat to being a Scot in a play set in his homeland. "At the moment I'm trying to find something that is not so Falkirk which is where I'm from. I have been watching a lot of Fraser Nelson. I'm really interested in these people who try and hide, very unsuccessfully, their accents."

Why does Forbes think anyone should book to see Rebus: A Game Called Malice, he says "it'll be a good night out if you like mysteries and solving a mystery then you'll enjoy it, if you like good theatre you'll enjoy it. It's a really amazing bunch of actors and we're all getting on really well and there's some great work in the room. It's a great theatre to come and visit if you've not been to the Queen's Theatre before then come and visit it because it's a lovely theatre."

The Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. Photo by Gary Summers

Forbes's first taste of theatre came "when I was at primary school when a troop of performers came into our assembly hall and built a stage, I don't even know what it was but I remember them being in the school and thinking this was amazing and being really taken by it. In later years I took an RSC production of The Taming of the Shrew into schools and I felt that it was doing what inspired me when I was young and that was fun."

Theatre is clearly a lifelong passion for Forbes, he tells me it means "everything" to him. "It's been my life and continues to be my life and hopefully continues to be my life". Though clarifies that "family is everything too". Forbes has enjoyed success on stage and screen "interestingly last year I did a bit more TV again which I hadn't done for a while and I was really enjoying TV again but theatre is something I've always loved. I love the fact you are a part of a team, it can be quite solitary when working on TV or film whereas in the theatre you're very much a part of the team. You are instantly reacting with the audience and it's the best thing in the world."

We touch on the very real crisis that theatres are facing "I am very worried at the moment with what is happening to theatres. My theatre home, The Tron Theatre in Glasgow where I started out and was there for 10 years has just lost its funding from Glasgow City Council and I'm really angry about that. You've also got theatres in London losing their Arts Council funding and I just don't know what's going on. At a time like this when you should be really appreciating what we've got and the economic benefits and the emotional and spiritual benefits that theatre can give you. I really think that they shouldn't be cutting back on it and that's what is so good to come to a theatre like Hornchurch which is clearly very much part of the community and shows what a theatre can be."

Rebus: A Game Called Malice plays at Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch from the 2nd to the 25th of February. Tickets on are sale now.

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