REVIEW: KRAY KRAY (Theatre N16) ★★★★

Much like the merry murderesses in Chicago, the Kray twins have become unlikely heroes of the East End. Schmoozing with starlets, admired and feared by everyone, their names are synonymous with a different type of legend.

Following the Kemp brothers’ portrayal in the 1990 film The Krays and more recently Tom Hardy’s in Legend (2015), interest in these twin gangsters has never been more aroused. But what makes two such violent criminals so appealing? Is it perhaps their humble upbringing, their close family, or their constant fight against the system?

In Kray Kray, Director Bryan Hodgson poses these questions, while also considering the balance of power between the two brothers, asking if in fact one had more control over the other.

The scene is set in a mansion in the middle of nowhere, just before the two meet with film producer Frank Taylor to discuss a film about their lives.

As with much of their lives, Ronnie (Jimmy Barker) and Reggie (Perry Meadowcroft) cannot agree. Not just about the film’s title, but also about its content and concept. Ronnie has developed a script to show ‘Mr America’, but Reggie wants no mention of Frances, murder or certain other aspects of the Kray’s life that might cause them trouble…

With just the two brothers in the scene, the play and atmosphere are intense. Yet it is also completely engrossing. The characterisation of both twins is exceptional, with mannerisms, posture and voice tone extremely believable. The dialogue is clever, with both brothers reading from Ronnie’s script, together and individually, taking the audience down memory lane and reminding us of the Kray family values and background.

The piece does rely a lot on this movie script, but this helps those perhaps less familiar with the brothers understand their story. There are scenes when the boys are young, sharing secrets and being lectured by their mum and dad about what to say to ‘the Blues’, Reggie’s first meeting with Frances, Ronnie’s run-in with Terence Martin and many other famous moments in their lives.

Some memories are poignant, some violent and disturbing, but all have been slightly glamourised for the movie, confusing the audience and the brothers as to what really happened all those years ago. Reggie’s guilt over Frances, Ronnie’s adamant declaration that he is ‘NOT a queer, but a bisexual’ and the constant love and affection for their mother Violet and each other, show the various different sides to these two renowned gangsters.

Although a little slow in places (and the title itself is slightly contentious), Kray Kray provides a fascinating insight into the brothers’ lives, particularly their relationship with each other and the dynamic between them. It is well written, well acted and well worth watching.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Paul Nicholas Dyke @pndphotography

KRAY KRAY plays at Theatre N16 until 29 April 2017