The Lyceum’s new season opens with a gleefully violent bang courtesy of DC Jackson’s viciously black comedy, Kill Johnny Glendenning.
Andrew MacPherson (Paul Samson) is a sharp-dressed gentleman Glasgow gangster, complete with a hierarchy of hitmen and his own personal biographer in the shape of tabloid crime reporter Bruce (Steven McNicoll). When MacPherson sleights the honour of Johnny ‘The Bastard’ Glendenning, the psychotic killer comes looking for revenge, setting a series of events in motion which result in a feast for the body-disposing pigs at Auld Jim’s remote Ayrshire farm.
Kill Johnny Glendenning is a fast-paced and modern crime thriller with comedic moments which slice deeper than a razor. MacPherson’s wannabe cohorts listen to gangsta rap and are addicted to their smartphones; both MacPherson and Glendenning top the Amazon charts with their sensationalist memoirs; even seemingly innocent WAG-gish wives hide sinister secrets. Played over two distinct halves, the play revisits the characters in two distinct locations: Auld Jim’s horror movie set of a farm and Bruce’s genteel Glasgow flat. The narrative mixes up sequential events, with characters who fatally play out their parts in the first act reappearing in the second, revealing more details about events which led to the rural bloodbath of the play’s first half.
Mark Thomson directs things at a blistering pace, with the humour ramped up high in the first half, particularly in the banter between inept kidnappers Dominic (Philip Cairns) and Skootch (Josh Whitelaw), and the stoical appearances of Auld Jim (a deadpan Kern Falconer). The second half belongs to David Ireland as Johnny Glendenning, who portrays the unhinged psycho-killer with a conviction which is at times hilarious, at others terrifying. His sequence threatening the heavily pregnant Kimberly (Joanne Thomson) is discomforting edge-of-the-seat stuff, and is a prime example of Jackson’s ability to swing from humour to unease at a moment’s notice.
Only occasionally labouring its obvious ‘Scottish Tarantino’ ambitions, Kill Johnny Glendenning is as a whole hugely enjoyable. With its broad themes of machismo, celebrity obsession and the seductive nature of violence, it has a depth beyond its humourously violent surface, creating a memorable and explosive start to the Lyceum’s new season.
Kill Johnny Glendenning runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre until 11 October. Tickets are available at the Lyceum website