An Offer You’d Rather Refuse

By Jo Broughton 

Gangster Number 1 is a fully committed dive deep into a Kray-like gangster’s life and the underbelly of London that was his world. It spans almost thirty years and a largely monologue-driven script leaves members of the audience at
the mercy of their own imagination.  We are forcefully thrust, front and centre, into every situation, every torture, every uncomfortable moment that ‘Gangster’ presents.

A very sparse set forces the audience to sink into its own perception as nothing is given; it’s purely word-driven with few visual aids. The captivating performance from the formid-able Francis Saunders,  during his almost Shakespearean rants,  reveals the madness of his mind and the memories which haunt him. Swinging from cataloguing his horrific crimes with a pride and relish, to appealing for sympathy for his tortured soul, Saunders pulls the audience into his depraved world. He’s mostly dressed sharply in a Kray-inspired suit throughout the first act before stripping to his underwear in act two as he wrestles with his night-mares of his victims – including a description of torture with an axe, chisel and even a pencil which leaves the audience wishing they could turn off their visualisation.

CREDIT: Peter Mould

Gangster’s nemesis, Freddie Mays played by Dave Lee gives a sympathetic performance as a rogue known as the ‘Butcher of Mayfair’. He ultimately goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, but somehow, we sympathize with him, particularly after he shows his vulnerable side with his infatuation and love of his moll, Mel (played hauntingly by Paula Saunders). Matt Turpin gives a great performance as Bent Copper, scheming and sliding his way through the criminal underworld in his insular and isolated way, giving such a heartbreaking insight into his dysfunctional life at home that the audience could only groan and giggle in discomfort at some of the revelations of his ‘normal’ world. Nick Bartlett plays Eddie Miller, whose unfortunate character is on a one-way ticket to doom whilst the audience has to watch almost in pain as he inches closer to his fate throughout the play, with Gangster looming larger and larger throughout. The shrinking of his character juxtaposes Gangster’s increasing strength and madness. All in all, a powerful production which leaves you both wanting more, and relieved there isn’t any.

Gangster Number 1 was playing at the Stables Theatre. It was written by Louis Mellis and David Scinto and directed by Jonathan Linsley. Francis Saunders, actor, writer, producer, director and ex MMA champion, will be going into production with his feature film ‘Uncaged’ this summer.

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