IN the late Sixties, filmmaker Donald Cammell received the go ahead from Warner Bros to make Performance, starring Edward Fox and Mick Jagger.
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Assembly Rooms, George Street
In the movie, Fox was cast as a violent London gangster, hiding out in the home of a reclusive rock star, played by the Rolling Stone.
Ever one to push boundaries, and obsessed with deconstructing the male psyche, Cammell decided to cast real East End gangsters in minor roles, which is the jumping off point for Performers, a new play from Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh.
Set in Cammell’s office, two unwitting villians arrive to audition; enter Bert and Alf, played by George Russo and Perry Benson.
Bottle green walls, pinned with publicity shots of the film’s stars and locations, set the scene, as does an array of memorabilia. Posters for the sixties’ movies Blow Up and Duffy dominate an office littered with cinematic paraphernalia, including a collapsible canvas director’s chair.
In the centre, three cinema seats and a coffee table are the focus around which the action unfolds. All smack of the seediness of the era.
While our would be film stars await the arrival of Cammell himself, banter turns to tales of prostitutes and pornographers, family connections, of “having places over”, heading down “the Elephant”, and enjoying a nice “cup of Rosie”.
In a script that is never afraid to state the obvious, the attitudes and language of the era are reflected as the pair explore the minutiae of their lives.
Forget Trainspotting, if you’re expecting Begbies, these gangsters are more old-school Lavendar Hill Mob. Not averse to a bit of ducking and diving, we’re in Minder territory here, rather than the dark world of The Krays.
As outwardly homophobic, but secretly gay Bert, Russo is a bundle of pent up frustration and outward bravado.
Sixteen-year-old office secretary Florrie, meanwhile, is imbued with quiet confidence by Maya Gerber.
However, it is Benson’s finely crafted Alf, that shines, never more so than when faced with Lewis Kirk’s insidious production assistant Crispin, who convinces him he must strip naked to land a role in the film.
Benson’s masterful understanding of his physicality ensures many deft comic moments.
Benson has been a staple of British film and TV for more than four decades now. You may know him from Scum, You Rang M’Lord, This Is England and, most recently, Benidorm. It’s good to see him exercising his comic talents on stage. He doesn’t disappoint.
Runs until 27 August