The Firm review: Portrait of ageing gang has wit but lacks fizz

We’ve seen the trope before, in many forms of drama: a criminal gang reunited over the prospect of one last job.

What writer Roy Williams does so skilfully is to undercut the idea right from the start, not least with a poignant reflection on the changing nature of gang culture, from old-fashioned codes of honour and loyalty to today’s grimly lawless free-for-all.

The Firm was once a notorious south London crew, but those heady glory days are long past. “The Firm? We’re the infirm!” quips Les (Jay Simpson) as the now middle-aged boys gather at a bar belonging to Gus (Ray Fearon, who recently played the “Hot Misogynist” in Fleabag), the only one who hasn’t done time in prison.

They are gathered to celebrate the release of a former member, but there’s an interloper — Fraser (Makir Ahmed), 20, who utters the most chilling line of the night: “Without a gang, you’re just an orphan.”

There’s much chat and attitude, not to mention some sharp wit, but sometimes the posturing and braggadocio appears half-hearted and Denis Lawson’s production doesn’t always fizz with the necessary energy. There aren’t many plays I’d like to be longer, but this could usefully run beyond its 90 minutes, to unpack and deepen some of the back-story.

The most rounded character is Les, now in a relationship with his former probation officer, and Simpson offers a compelling portrait of a man who realises how much there is to lose if he trips up. Fearon has charisma too, even if Gus’s contradictions are harder to reconcile.

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