Reggie and Ronnie Kray were two gangsters who ruled the East End of London during the fifties and sixties. Due to the fact that that they were twins, mixed with show business celebrities and politicians and had their photos taken by David Bailey, they became “legends” and for some reason their turbulent story has passed into modern folklore even though they were thugs who murdered, committed arson, violent assaults, ran a protection racket and one of them, Ronnie, was certifiably insane.
There have been at least two major movies about them, “The Krays” with Spandau Ballet’s Gary and Martin Kemp as the brothers and “Legend” where Tom Hardy played both parts as well as two plays based on their story, “Alpha Alpha” and “England England”. You’d think the subject had been done to death but just when you thought there was nothing more to say about the brothers Kray, along comes Kray Kray (is the title an homage to the two earlier plays?) at Theatre N16.
Based on an allegedly true story when the Krays met with Frank Taylor an American film producer to sell him their life story and have it turned into a movie, the play is set in the hour or so before Taylor turns up at a mansion somewhere in the country and it purports to show us the conflicts the brothers had between them and how they saw themselves – parallel lives but seen through different eyes.
Whilst there may be room for another story about the Krays (and I’m not convinced there is), I don’t think this is it. The performances by the two actors are a bit uneven. Jimmy Barker who with an excellent wig and a pair of glasses like the ones Ronnie wore, bears more than a passing resemblance to his character but there’s an inconsistency in his performance. He does convey the menace of a sociopath and at times is very scary but in between the madness, he isn’t always convincing. Perry Meadowcroft as Reggie, seems at time to be auditioning for a role in “Eastenders” – he just doesn’t look or feel like Reggie Kray. Admittedly the two actors weren’t helped by the music seeping up from the dance class being held on the floor below or the sound of the many trains passing by!
The writing from the play’s director Bryan Hodgson has some excellent moments but at times it’s unrealistic – would Ronnie really know technical film jargon such as “interior shot” or “close-up” and have the ability to write pages and pages of a film script? Maybe this was just poetic licence to drive the plot along but it just wasn’t very believable. There was some interesting Tarantinoesque dialogue early in the piece but it just wasn’t developed enough and the play just didn’t really work as a convincing or insightful piece of theatre. Maybe it’s now time to put the “legend” of these two murdering thugs to bed – surely there are a lot more interesting stories to be told.
Theatre N16 are one of the few above the pub theatres south of the river (maybe to avoid confusion they should re-name themselves Theatre SW12?) and are bringing some exciting and innovative work to Balham but I’m not sure that Kray Kray is either.
Review by Alan Fitter
“You wanna make a film about gangsters? We’ve got a good story. Listen to this!”Ronnie and Reggie Kray were two of London’s most notorious gangsters. Basing their image and entire way of life around the iconic American gangster movies and the more classic Dickens ‘baddies’, the Kray twins managed to maintain a successful and theatrical career for many years.
This new play explores the early lives behind the famous duo, their subsequent influence on London crime, and the possibility of a film deal!
Everyone wants to be remembered and immortalised – especially when a movie producer comes knocking at your door…
Director / Writer – Bryan Hodgson
Artistic Director – Paul Nicholas Dyke
Executive Producer – Jamie Chapman Dixon
RONNIE – Jimmy Barker
REGGIE – Perry Meadowcroft
A new play by Bryan Hodgson
Tuesday 11th – Saturday 29th April 2017