Writer: Martin Malcolm
Director: Russell Lucas
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Some 50 years after their arrest, Reggie and Ronnie still hold their appeal. Films like Legend and The Krays continue to mythologise their lives and glamourize the violence they perpetrated. It’s not too hard to imagine young men of today being lured by the Krays’ signature starched white shirts and their pristinely oiled hair. It makes a change from the hoodies and balaclavas of today’s teenage gangsters.
In Warped, Martin Malcolm’s new play, Aaron wants to set up a new firm, a new protection racket with his old school friend Matty. Aaron has mastered his heroes’ menacing stares and swaggering gaits. Indeed, as Matty tells him: ‘the cockier you get, the bigger your…quiff’, and indeed, Alex Boxall (who plays Aaron) does have a wonderful quiff, which he flattens down with lacquer. Boxall is ominously authentic as the thuggish young pretender to Reggie’s crown.
James Ferguson plays Matty, who is not taking things so seriously. He’s been blindsided by Aaron’s attention, and is hopeful that their criminal partnership will blossom into a love affair. In Ferguson’s hands, Matty is damaged, the result of being bullied at school, and Aaron takes full advantage of this, leading him on, suggesting that a relationship is possible.
We meet them in a room above a pub, preparing for their first job, genning up on the Krays’ careers, and their preferred weapons. Aaron tells Matty that if he really wants to follow in the Krays’ footsteps, he has to become ‘mates with pain’ and then offers him a sizzling iron. Matty acquiesces because of his infatuation with Aaron rather than his obsession with the Twins.
The story is intriguing, and the acting is good, especially that of Boxall, but Warpedsuffers from some odd directorial decisions. The play is presented in the Cavern, the VAULT Festival’s most atmospheric venue, and yet the house lights remain fully lit throughout the whole play, undermining the sinister planning of the two wannabes. And as it’s played in traverse it’s very easy to become absorbed with the audience on the other side rather than the two actors. Scenes leak confusingly into each other under the same bright lights when a change in their intensity could usefully signify days or nights passing.
The traverse staging throws up problems of its own, with sightlines obscured and voices muffled. The props laid in the centre of the skinny stage become trip hazards for the actors as they hurry from one end to another. On the plus side, the staging is intimate but this could have been achieved in other ways.
Towards the end of the play, another queer partnership is invoked: Joe Orton and his lover/murderer Kenneth Halliwell. As the stakes rise for Matty, he seems to encapsulate the paranoia of Halliwell rather than the brutality of Ronnie Kray. Warped is only 60 minutes long, but Matty grows up quickly.
With some changes, this play could be electric, but in its current state, it seems like a dress rehearsal. It’s dark and gritty, but the bright lights don’t do it justice.
Runs until 24 February 2019 | Image: contributed