Saturday, September 17, 2005

Public Enemy

As I've been brooding on the vicious, criminal thuggishness of the Robert McCartney murder and its tortuous postscript, my thoughts have turned to a play called "Public Enemy" that I saw years and years ago in the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith.

It was written by and starred Kenneth Branagh and staged by his Renaissance Theater Company although I'd never heard of him at the time. It pre dated his breakthrough in the film of Henry V by a couple of years I think. (I still remember him in Hammersmith as being the most dynamic performer I have ever seen on a stage.)

The play was about a young Belfast man who is obsessed with the films of James Cagney. At the beginning it seems innocent enough as he does a Cagney act singing 'Yankee Doodle Dandy', but gradually he seems to drift into a more serious delusion and becomes a real killer while apparently living out famous Cagney roles. A very stylised piece as you might imagine.

What gradually emerges however is that his outrages are designed to provoke the gangster warlords of both the Loyalists and the Republicans, and that he intends to kill them all together in some great conflagration when they meet each other to discuss what to do about him and the problems he is causing their 'businesses'.

Branagh spent some of his childhood in Belfast, and this was the first time I was exposed to the now commonplace idea that the hardmen of both sides are really more career criminals than romantic idealists.

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