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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Docherty’

When this was first produced 37 years ago it was controversial, to put it mildly. It’s an autobiographical play co-written by notorious Glasgow gangster Jimmy Boyle, still in prison for murder at the time, and darling of the 60’s underground, and founding editor of the infamous International Times, Tom McGrath. Now we get to see it without any baggage, but still in the evocative, rich dialect in which is was written.

In the first act we follow Johnny Byrne from childhood petty crime like shoplifting through burglary to more sinister knife-carrying and recruitment by local gangster Danny. It’s not long before ambitious Johnny topples Danny and becomes a fully-fledged gangster with his own enforcers, by which time the police are determined to get him behind bars. An initial term of two years just results in criminal learning and networking, but then a murder means life.

In the second act, set entirely in a prison cell, we see the battle of wills between Byrne and the authorities and his futile attempts at DIY appeals. He’s subjected to the sort of violence he’s more used to dishing out and comes to earn the ‘animal’ soubriquet that he’s taken with him to prison. The tone of this second half is much darker and the violence ever so realistic. The final image at such close quarters is truly shocking.

There is a stunning central performance from Martin Docherty as Byrne. You rarely see an actor invest such physical and emotional energy so effectively and the transition from schoolboy to gangster is simply brilliant. Six actors play the other 23 roles – family, friends, neighbours, victims and all of the authority figures – with great skill. If any of them are not native Scots, then their accents are brilliant! I much admired Mark Dominy’s uncompromising staging, with impressive fight direction by Ronin Traynor. Max Pappenheim’s soundscape adds much atmosphere.

The controversy at the time was largely around giving a platform to an evil man and allowing him to rewrite his personal history. I think the play does do this, but 37 years on we can view it as drama without having to take a view and as drama, it’s about as dramatic as it gets. People like Boyle still exist, drugs and arms their new currency, many coming here from other lands, so the story of the evolution of a gangster still resonates.

The Finborough proving essential yet again. Don’t miss.

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