Kill Johnny Glendenning

Kill Johnny Glendenning is a play of two halves; each a brutally funny, finely-tuned treatise on the various overlapping hierarchies of power and violence that, while shaping our lives, can nevertheless be overturned unexpectedly. Their locations can hardly be more different: the first, a decrepit Ayrshire farm house reeking of pig-shit, incest and decay; the second a bright, upper-floor flat in Glasgow’s prosperous Hyndland district. Not only that, the two halves of this car-crash of criminal underworld violence, betrayal and twisted loyalties are presented non-chronologically; which admittedly makes sense, if only because of the number of bodies littering the stage before the interval.

Kill Johnny Glendenning is incredibly, laugh-out-loud funny. Yes, the humour is necessarily dark, and even physically bloody, but it also intelligently reflects our celebrity-fixated times

Giving us the apparent conclusion of the story first might appear an odd decision to make, robbing any second half of dramatic tension. Yet writer D C Jackson clearly knows what he’s doing, neatly and intelligently using this structure to give us more background, provide explanations and heighten the tension during the latter half precisely because we already know the level of violence which the main antagonist —the titular Johnny Glendenning —is capable of committing. If the passage of time is not always clear, this is only a minor irritation.

On the surface, the conflict at the heart of this story is between Glasgow “businessman”Andrew MacPherson (played by Paul Samson, all tumultuous anger suppressed under the thin skin of a business suit) and the former Loyalist terrorist Glendenning (a fine-form David Ireland, who uses the small ‘human’details of the man that only heighten his violent aspects).

The latter’s honour has been hurt by both a failed drugs deal that’s left him — unlike MacPherson —seriously out of pocket, and a Scottish press report labelling him as a ‘grass’. Thanks to the latter, the initial focus of the story is on Daily Reporter journalist Bruce Wilson (played just the right level of increasing frustration by Steven McNicoll), and two of MacPherson’s men initially sent to baby-sit him. These are the inherently good-hearted Dominic (Philip Cairns) and his mate “Skootch”(Josh Whitelaw) who soon finds himself totally out of his depth in a criminal world that doesn’t operate like his favourite video games.

Things have not gone to plan, however, which is why we encounter Dominic and Skootch not in Bruce’s flat but the hellish farm, with the journalist tied up in a cupboard. Matters only continues to unravel as first MacPherson and then a gun-festooned Glendenning arrive on the scene, bringing violence in their wake. Yet there are also other conflicts and machinations going on between the characters, some of which only become clear during the second half. This is a fine piece of tightly-plotted writing, where even the most seemingly innocuous point both helps defines character and pushes the plot forward: MacPherson’s plea for “No more unexpected happenings”isn’t likely to be heard.

Above all else, though, Kill Johnny Glendenning is incredibly, laugh-out-loud funny. Yes, the humour is necessarily dark, and even physically bloody, but it also intelligently reflects our celebrity-fixated times; not least by having a former loyalist paramilitary proud that his self-penned autobiography (also available as a self-read audio-book) just happens to be the most-shop-lifted book from Waterstone’s.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

“You died as you lived - an extra in a second rate James Cagney picture being recreated by halfwits and junkies.”

Andrew MacPherson has many legitimate business interests: a security firm, taxis, a couple of Renfrewshire bus routes, several pubs and even a secret shareholding in Rangers. Johnny 'the bastard' Glendenning is the self styled Tony Blair of Ulster loyalist gunmen. In a farmhouse far out in the wilds of Ayrshire they are on a deadly collision course. Caught between them are a farmer, his mother, two thugs, a sleazy tabloid hack and some pigs with a taste for human flesh.

Kill Johnny Glendenning is a murderous comedy of the Glasgow underworld, taking aim at the tabloid celebrity and macho glamour of the gangster life.

Recently writing for Channel 4’s Fresh Meat, Scottish playwright DC Jackson’s previous work for theatre includes My Romantic History (Scotsman Fringe First Award 2010), and the trilogy of The Wall, The Ducky and The Chooky Brae. This is Jackson’s second commission for The Lyceum, following his acclaimed adaptation of Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro.

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