Kill Johnny Glendenning

Sep 21 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩     Blood with no guts

Royal Lyceum Theatre Wed 17 Sept – Sat 11 Oct 2014

Vigorous and energetic, the Lyceum’s world premiere of Kill Johnny Glendenning provides lashings of blood and humour in a production which is well performed and directed, but in the end is less than the sum of its parts.

David Ireland as Johnny Glendenning. Photo: Robbie Jack

David Ireland as Johnny Glendenning. Photo: Robbie Jack

In D.C. Jackson’s play, Glasgow gangster Andrew McPherson is attempting to smear his erstwhile associate, Loyalist terrorist Johnny ‘The Bastard’ Glendenning, as a ‘grass.’ However, things have not gone to plan, and two of McPherson’s underlings are holed up in a smelly Ayrshire farm, where things go ludicrously and violently wrong.

Despite recent productions of Martin McDonagh – a Scottish version of whom this set-up seems to suggest – this does not immediately look like traditional Lyceum fare. However, while some will undoubtedly find the pitch-black humour, language and violence a little too much, it is just as likely that audiences will be more welcoming. Indeed, the constant clamour to shock is more reminiscent of an attention-seeking child, and as such is more likely to evoke indulgent tutting.

The humour does not always hit the mark but has a definite energy and is well served by some big comic performances, notably by Kern Falconer as Auld Jim, a character described in the play as being like something from Deliverance, but who seems more in the tradition of The League of Gentleman. Steven McNicoll’s journalist Bruce, meanwhile, is a more realistic creation but is similarly effective.

an earthy relish for language

Josh Whitelaw also shines as Skootch, the young man with a fixation on Hollywood gangsters, displaying excellent timing and an earthy relish for language.

When the play moves away from comedy to the more straightforward ‘thriller’ elements it is not always as strong as it might be. The structure of the play is certainly clever – without wanting to give anything away, it would certainly be advisable to pay close attention to everything that takes place in the first act. However, the script itself comes across as a touch underpowered at times, as if the whole thing is one draft away from completion.

Paul Samson and Kern Falconer. Photo:  Robbie Jack

Paul Samson and Kern Falconer. Photo: Robbie Jack

It seems as if there is going to be some kind of examination of the fascination with ‘true crime’, of crooks who consider themselves ‘legitimate businessmen’ and of the writers who associate with them – but this does not arrive. As a result, some of the main characters are underdeveloped.

Paul Samson, who is best known for playing Raymond Henderson in River City for ten years until he was killed off just last week, is utterly convincing at times as ‘Public Enemy Number Two’ Andrew McPherson, but in the end he does not get enough to work with.

David Ireland, meanwhile, is a huge and magnetic presence as Johnny Glendenning, but in the end the character does not quite hold together. Like some of the onstage violence, he seems more humorous than scary, and as a result the balance of the play does not quite seem right.

Philip Cairns, as conflicted hitman Dominic, and Joanne Thomson, as his wife Kimberley, suffer more than most from less than entirely realised characterisation, but there is no doubting the commitment and skill of the performances.

This could be said of the whole production – Mark Thomson’s direction is pacy and slick, handling the grimly farcical moments well. Michael Taylor’s sets are tremendous, particularly the Ayrshire farm that is totally ludicrous but whose attention to detail makes it utterly believable.

The energy, humour and sheer brass neck on display mean that the whole thing may not stand up to the closest of scrutiny but has a crazy, headlong momentum that will satisfy most audiences. But definitely not all.

Running time 2 hours 20 mins including interval
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9AX
Run ends Sat 11 October 2014
Tue to Sat at 7.30 pm; Weds and Sat at 2.00 pm
Tickets and details from:

Glasgow Citizens transfer:
Citizens Theatre, 119 Gorbals Street, Glasgow, G5 9DS
Weds 22 October – Sat 8 November 2014
Tue-Sat 7.30pm. Sat 1 Nov 2.30pm.
Tickets and details from:


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