This review was originally written for The Public Review.
This play begins with a flurry of obscenities shouted into the phone by a cockney gangster seemingly engaging in a conversation only to find he had the wrong number. Set in a sex cinema in the North East in the ‘60s, the troubled Jewish owner is struggling with running the business. His half brother Ruben, who works at the cinema has the bright idea of deciding on the spot to kidnap the gangster who turns out to be Reggie Kray. Along with two co-workers, the brothers hastily cook up a bungling plan to hold Reggie for ransom to save the cinema.
This is a black comedy, part tribute to gangster movies and part exploration of Jewish identity and self-loathing. If this sounds a little odd, it is. The themes seem to run parallel to one another and do not need to exist in the same play. But having said that, the first act flies by with its snappy Geordie banter and carries a certain intrigue into the interval. The second half slackens as Ruben becomes Reggie’s ally and the four men turn on each other as to what to do with the hostage. This is not exactly the most original plot twist. The writing is flawed but there are enough flashes of literary and ideological surprises to keep up interest.
This production by the amateur theatre group KDC Theatre has assembled a very capable cast. The direction by Duncan Moore certainly extracted passionate performances and reasonable accents from the cast. However, from scene to scene, the tone and pace can feel a little uneven but this is a minor observation. The performance of Piers Burnell as Reggie certainly stands out if not for his voice and he exudes authority with his deliberate articulation emphasising menace. Nick Edwards as Ruben has a puppy-like keenness and naivety, full of nervousness and ambition. With the play set on Boxing day, the cast should also be commended as they are tasked with wearing heavy overcoats while one is in a gorilla suit on one of the hottest days in a baking basement.
The simple set has strips of film hanging on the wall and a flickering light to illustrate the film in progress. This may not be terribly exciting but is certainly effective. This play is a good choice for an amateur production because it has a healthy range for acting and an interesting text making it enjoyable project to make. At the same time, it is not easy to manage the shortcomings of the play itself which poses a challenge.