Review: Kray Kray
Image: Theatre N16
"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 ...
Born and raised in London's East End, identical twins Ronald and Reginald Kray had a date with destiny - they were to join the distinguished ranks of the most notorious criminals to prowl the earth.
Their extraordinary lives and chilling deeds have spawned something akin to a media industry on its own, with enormous numbers of books, films and documentaries describing their early days, rise to criminal power and incarceration at Her Majesty's Pleasure.
If they had had a piece of this media action, they might easily have made more ready cash from royalties than they ever did from their criminal practices.
You might think, then, that there would be little room left for yet another undertaking about this pair of identical brothers-cum-gangsters, but Kray Kray proves there might yet be exploitable life in the Kray story.
From left: Perry Meadowcroft (Reg), Jimmy Barker (Ron)*
I say "might" because the rule of the Kray twins and their gang (known rather entrepreneurially as 'The Firm') has now receded into the dim and distant past.
The twins were imprisoned back in 1969 - now almost 50 years ago - and that makes one wonder whether their notoriety still has the same box office potential as it once did.
Bryan Hodgson's drama finds a somewhat novel niche to examine the relationship between Ron and Reg, seeking to determine whether one of the twins was the stronger, more dominant in this immensely symbiotic relationship.
In addition, the play wonders if the twins were seeking some kind of legacy for themselves - the stuff, perhaps, of legend.
The play is a simple two-hander between the dreaded duo who are holed-up in a grand, borrowed house awaiting the arrival of a film producer who is meeting them to discuss making a movie about their lives.
In preparation for this meeting, Ronnie - known in the East End as 'The Colonel' and one for orchestrating events - has written huge swathes of script.
Apparently, this meeting did actually take place, but the idea of Ronnie writing any script for the proposed film seems a wholly dramatic device to recount events from the Krays' past.
Jimmy Barker certainly bears a striking resemblance here to the real Ronnie Kray, sporting the trademark glasses that (in later years at least) helped people to distinguish the brothers.
Perry Meadowcroft's appearance doesn't bear such a resemblance to his real-life counterpart Reg, but that hardly matters.
Though the real twins were identical at birth, and in their early days were described as indistinguishable, by this stage in their lives their looks had become somewhat different, and not just because of Ron's spectacles (check-out this YouTube video of a TV interview they gave).
Mr Barker's well-described and rather chilling Ron seems to be in charge here, with most of the dialogue, and the sinister driving force behind the activities of the pair.
Perry Meadowcroft's Reg is quieter, seemingly more reasonable, but is also prone to violent outbursts, largely in reaction to his sibling's continual provocation.
The real test of the success of a play of this kind is whether we learn anything particularly revelatory or new about the protagonists.
Sadly, I don't think we do, though the play does raise a couple of interesting points.
First, there's the issue about the death of Reg's wife, Frances, who was supposed to have committed suicide but there's a suggestion that she may have been killed.
The second issue concerns how much alike these two actually were.
We certainly see that they were both prone to rage and violence, though Ron seems the more unpredictable in this regard, perhaps largely due to his severe mental ill-health.
But neither of those issues is particularly novel enough to set this dramatic enterprise significantly apart from other attempts to define and describe the Krays.
However, Bryan Hodgson's deft direction elicits absorbing and convincing performances from both actors here, and there's enough tension in the drama to make for an interesting evening's theatre.
* Photography by Paul Nicholas Dyke
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