ONE of last year’s biggest Scottish theatre hits was David Harrower’s Ciara, a monologue about a woman born into a Glasgow crime family and doing all she can to get out. With Kill Johnny Glendenning, playwright DC Jackson is in similar territory, only this time he plays it as farce. Where Harrower gave us a subtle meditation on the difficulty of cultural change, Jackson offers a Tarantino-esque bloodbath of violent excess and a script of machine-gun hilarity.
Set in a farmhouse hideaway – or, as Jackson’s colourful turn of phrase would have it, a “sub-human shit-shack in the anus of Ayrshire” – the play is about the kidnapping of an investigative reporter caught up in a gangland feud over the proceeds of a heroin shipment. In the flashback second act, which cleverly gives us the motivations behind the seemingly random killings of the first, we learn that one of the kidnappers is married to the mob. His wife, like Harrower’s Ciara, is determined to get out.
The world she’s escaping is one of cartoonish bravado, shaped by the romantic glamour of the gangster movie and the mystique of the celebrity criminal. One of the kidnappers wears a suit inspired by Al Pacino in Scarface, while the rival crime bosses boast of the number of books written about them.
Like the others in Mark Thomson’s full-blooded production, David Ireland gives a scarily funny performance. As the eponymous lead, he always carries an air of psychopathic menace (despite Johnny’s love of reggae stalwarts Aswad). I laughed a lot, but kept feeling the play was only ever as good as the last joke. Despite its echoes of Glasgow’s real-life ice-cream wars, Jackson’s comic universe has more murderous exuberance than satirical bite.