The latest offering from the Lyceum Theatre is not for the fainthearted. Packed with violence, blood, and offensive language, Kill Johnny Glendenning contains elements that can make even the most hard-core gangster fans jump in their seats. Understandably, this play isn’t for everyone – a point proven by the appearance of several empty seats after the first act.
Are you still not put off? Good – because you’re in for a treat.
Written by Ayrshire playwright D. C. Jackson, Kill Johnny Glendenning deals with the dark underbelly of Glasgow, a world in which gangsters and gunmen rule. Among this sketchy crowd we find Andrew MacPherson, a ruthless businessman played by Paul Samson. The gangster has one thing on his mind: to kill Johnny Glendenning, an Ulster loyalist gunman who wants his revenge after MacPherson released a rumour stating “Gunman Johnny turns grass” in an effort to have him assassinated.
The first act, set in the kitchen of an old and filthy Ayrshire pig-farm, sees the arrival of two of MacPherson’s gangster goons and a somewhat baffled kidnapped journalist. The set is brilliantly disgusting, accurately described by one of the characters as “remote and creepy as fuck”. The latter part of that description is also frequently used about the inhabitants of the farm – Auld Jim and his mother – who make a living on the side by disposing of unwanted corpses by feeding them to their pigs. Auld Jim, brilliantly played by Kern Falconer, provides a sort of morbid comic relief, leaving the audience constantly torn between laughing their eyes out and being scared to bits by his absurd yet chilling appearance.
However, as the title suggests, the play truly is about Johnny Glendenning. Played by David Ireland, the self-proclaimed “bastard” is on a mission, and he’s willing to kill whoever comes in his way.
The play is at times confusing, a fact that wasn’t helped by the quick dialogue and an impressively thick Glasgow accent. However, this massively improved in the second act, as more of the story was unveiled to the audience and the missing pieces started to fall into place.
In the end, it’s the dialogue that makes this play so enjoyable, as it manages to balance the gruesome and the hysterical in an impressive manner. The interplay between Samson and Ireland is particularly satisfying in this regard, as MacPherson’s charismatic yet deadly charm meets Glendenning’s subtle and controlled insanity.
Kill Johnny Glendenning isn’t a play for everyone. However, if this review hasn’t put you off then you might have an exciting night in the theatre ahead.