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The Firm @ Hampstead Theatre (Play Review) The Firm @ Hampstead Theatre (Play Review)
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The Firm @ Hampstead Theatre (Play Review)

The critically acclaimed production makes a welcomed and triumphant return to Hampstead Theatre, Downstairs after its first outing in 2017. Any play by Roy Williams, who in my opinion is one of UK’s leading playwright is always worth a watch.

 

Despite its size, set designer Alex Marker has worked wonders in transforming the space into what feels like a spacious upmarket bar. Replete with stools, tables and a well-stocked bar, it was quite fascinating to watch the actors get so much spaciousness out of this small area.

 

We see the edgy bar owner Gus (Ray Fearon) and his laid back partner in crime Leslie (Jay Simpson) await the arrival of their long time criminal associates Saul, who has just been released from jail. They plan to surprise him with a welcome home party like no other.

 

The boorish and macho banter between the two men begin thick and fast like a medieval jousting match. We learn that Leslie is dating his probation officer and has decided much to the incredulity of Gus to turn his back on a life of crime.

 

Next and unexpectedly, lumbers in Trent (George Eggay), another member of the Firm. He’s teased for not only expanding girth but for also ducking out of a fight with some young criminals from the local estate.

 

Hearing a knock and expecting Saul, instead enters Selywn (Clarence Smith) another gang member who has brought his so called relative Fraser (Makir Ahmed) in tow. This new and unwelcomed guest immediately raises anger and suspicion and he’s on the verge of being unceremoniously ejected, when he reveals that he as a plan for a last `job`.

 

After explaining the details of this job that would bring in `peanuts’ by their calculations and would involve unnecessary violence, it’s clear that’s not the stranger’s the true reason for gate-crashing proceedings.

 

It transpires that he’s Gus’s son through his earlier affair with his underage mother. The three men are both disgusted and repulsed by this revelation and the jovial ribbing immediately takes a darker and more sinister turn.

 

In defending his actions, Gus immediately attacks the other gang members physically and psychologically. Dredging up old grievances resulting in surfacing of deep seated anger and by the play end, all the men are emotionally broken in their own way.

 

It’s a fine ensemble of actors but Ray Fearon portrayal as the brutal and narcissistic leader of the pack (in the absence of Saul that is) is outstanding.

 

Prowling around his cocktail bar like a cornered tiger as he realises his grip over the group is waning, he lashes out savagely in a bid to wrest back control. He seamlessly manages to transform from testosterone fuelled machismo to quivering tenderness at the memory of unrequited love from Gus’s mother with aplomb.

 

Jay Simpson role is probably the most fascinating and developed. Starting out as a slightly weak eager to please side-kick, we watch him slowly become more aggressive as he senses Gus’s power dwindling to almost challenge him for ascendancy in a heart-stopping toe-to-toe enraged confrontation.

 

The other three cast member provide fine supporting roles with a noteworthy performance by Maker Ahmed’s as the eager criminal in waiting ready to challenge the for crown of what he sees as the outgoing generation of criminals.

 

Writer Roy Williams and director Denis Lawson manage to handle the idea of male friendship and ageing with great warmth and sensitivity.  The banter and putdowns that ensues between the group of men as they celebrate their past glories and their uncertain future as maturing criminal as a new generation with different attitudes sweep in provide most of the comedic as well the sombre moments of the production.

 

In a recent interview Roy Williams said: “Every generation believes that they are the first to do this and that… what I hope is that some teenagers today, especially those that carry knives come to understand that this live fast die young mentality is wrong, just wrong!”

 

With the Firm, Roy Williams once again displays his inventiveness. He cleverly gives us an insight into a macho male world of crude repartee, friendship, humour and sensitivity whilst at the same time conveying the scary notion that violence and savage retribution is only and always a hair’s breadth away.

 

Firm is an excellent, absorbing watch. Catch it before the season ends.

 

Till 8 Jun, Hampstead Theatre, NW£ 3EU For details  https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2019/the-firm/