Theatre review: Running with the Firm
Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Running With the Firm at Zoo Southside (Venue 82), review by David Pollock
With a title like that and a mugshot of a dead-eyed skinhead on the flyer, former undercover police officer James Bannon’s solo show should be meat and potatoes to your laddish casual Fringe-goer looking for an hour of cheap escapist titillation with lashings of ultraviolence thrown in.
Perhaps best to dispel that notion early on, for Bannon (bearded and shaggy-haired, he looks more like former New Order bassist Peter Hook than an aspiring Firm member) has created something truly theatrical, an autobiography with a well-formed narrative arc and a journey for his younger self to experience.
He takes us back to his 21st year in the 1980s, to when he was a young and freshly-recruited policeman called Jamie. Yet he was also Jim, a painter and decorator from Wandsworth who drank lager.
That was his legend, the story he would let take him over in order to convince the thugs and casuals he infiltrated that he was one of them, and he repeats it like an incantation. It turns out Bannon was good at his job, and he speaks vividly of entering notorious Millwall pub The Puffin with the task of making friends, and of awaydays and street scraps while walking the fine line between legal and extra-legal.
Key to this (both the show’s success and clearly his ability to break into the opposition ranks) is that Bannon is simply a great storyteller and an affable raconteur who mixes geezerish immediacy with a wistful sense of thoughtfulness about the bigger picture.
He recognises the humanity of his new “friends” when they buy him a children’s book after he tells them he can’t read to get out of a sticky spot, and breaks down in tears after watching the infamous 1988 mob murder of undercover British soldiers David Howes and Derek Wood in Belfast.
Football violence is a pretty tired-out dramatic subject, but Bannon injects new life into it with a mixture of humour, authenticity and unflinching honesty, slipping out of chatty mode and stopping to read from his book a couple of times only when he wishes to make a controversial point – for example, that sleeping with women while not being who you say you are is acceptable if it is the only way to further your mission (he didn’t do it, although he had the chance), and that policing football games – and presumably any large public event – can’t be learned, it can only be experienced.
Originally appeared in The Scotsman