Review: Kill Johnny Glendenning

Act One takes place in an Ayrshire farmhouse so grubby that even from the stalls you feel begrimed and queasy.
Paul Samson
 in Kill Johnny Glendenning. Picture: Aly WightPaul Samson
 in Kill Johnny Glendenning. Picture: Aly Wight
Paul Samson in Kill Johnny Glendenning. Picture: Aly Wight

* * *

Lyceum Theatre

There, a clutch of stock characters engages in a massive amount of business, in a play filled to bursting with gimmicks involving props and jokes about modern technology.

The characters’ actual business is nasty work, for Kill Johnny Glendenning is set in the Glasgow underworld. Cue beatings, stabbings, shootings, and what your granny called “language”. It’s served with not quite lashings of laughter, though some audience members giggled at the first instance of the F word and never quite stopped.

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Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet have a lot to answer for. Both seem key influences on DC Jackson’s repetition-heavy text, peppered with the now de rigueur set pieces where hard men pause for lofty discussions about music and philosophy. The act ends so decisively that a second half seems preposterous.

Act Two turns out to be a prequel, illuminating what went before. There is no earthly necessity for this flip – it feels like showy contortionism – but at least it allows a woman to join the lads on stage. She is not a civilising influence. Here, we’re nudged toward Jackson’s second theme: media sensationalism and the stupidity of celebrity culture.

This production marks the return to the stage of Paul Samson, late of River City. As MacPherson he’s given little to do and is massively out-acted by his co-stars. Joanne Thomson, playing Kimberly, steals the show as a woman hell bent on vengeance. Kern Falconer plays Auld Jim – basically Father Jack, as farmer – with panache, though it’s a cartoon role. Ditto David Ireland’s Johnny Glendenning, the Northern Oirish crim given a one-note song that, to be fair, he sings from the heart.

Described in the programme as “a big bowl of ice cream”, Kill Johnny Glendenning is positively average.