Gangsters, violence, Ayrshire ... and lots of laughs

LET'S make it clear," says writer Daniel Jackson, smiling, but in rather serious voice.

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"My new play about gangsters does not tell the story of any actual Ayrshire gangsters. Any resemblance to someone currently living or dead is purely coincidental."

It has to be said the world's ears will prick up at the suggestion of a new Daniel Jackson play.

The Ayrshire-born writer has in recent years proved he's one of the best comedy talents around thanks to theatre work such as My Romantic History and television with Fresh Meat.

And now that he's gone down to the murderous underworld for inspiration to come up with Kill Johnny Glendenning you just know he will come up with a play that's screaming out to be seen.

The play tells of Andrew McPherson, who has many legitimate business interests: a security firm, taxis, a couple of Renfrewshire bus routes, several pubs and even a secret shareholding in Rangers.

Meanwhile, he comes up against Johnny 'the b*******' Glendenning, the self-styled Tony Blair of Ulster loyalist gunmen.

Their feud races towards a final showdown in the wilds of Ayrshire that only one of them can survive.

"It's about the interplay between organised crime in Scotland and how it's reported," says Daniel.

Does he believe elements of the press glorify our gangsters?

"I'm not sure, but the Scots media does give crime far more coverage than English papers who report the same sort of material. There was a fascination point in England with the Krays and the Great Train Robbers, so the papers' hands weren't completely clean, but these days it's different.

"And there is a truth to the thought the tabloids in Scotland report on the details of crime, the exploits of the criminal fraternity, and gives them their colourful names.

"But it's not about hanging the media out to dry. It's not acting in a vacuum. And there's something about the Scottish people wanting to know the detail of that world."

He adds, with a wry smile; "It says a lot about the Wha's Like Us attitude of the Scottish people. Explain that one."

Can't, Daniel. Our culture does seem to have a strange relationship with crime. We abhor it, yet seem to want to know the detail of it.

"It's true. I used to work in Border's Books and the most bought - and stolen - books were books about Irish paramilitaries," he says, smiling.

Is it anything to do with the fact we loved cowboys and Indians movies; the west of Scotland is the Wild West?

"Yes. I think Scottish people have always looked across the Atlantic. And I recall smiling knowingly when I heard Paul Ferris was once arrested while having a meeting in Frankie and Benny's restaurant, suggesting he was carrying on the Godfather feel."

The writer adds, smiling; "It's Sicily refracted through America."

How did he gain the knowledge to be able to write about the sewer rats of our society?

"I read a lot of books," he says, smiling. "I didn't go and meet the bad boys.

"I've read extensive amounts of books about men with improbable nicknames. And as you know, there's no shortage of material.

"The most memorable one was about Jamie 'Iceman' Stevenson. What I loved about it was his nickname was never Iceman. It was a mistake in a tabloid newspaper, he was, I think The Bull.

"But clearly Iceman sounds better.

"I've also read the Paul Ferris story, but the crime books get a bit samey after a while."

Daniel added: "There's also a long history of interplay between Ayrshire and that aspect of Northern Ireland society. When I was at school someone was arrested for running guns for the UDA or whatever.

"So it's not a big credibility stretch to imagine this world."

Isn't there are a danger we are all - the media, theatre, complicit in glorifying the myth of crime?

"My hope is that the play will operate in a Tarantino sort of way," he says, smiling. "I hope to show some of the violence, but then pull back the cloth and reveal it for what it is."

He added: "I don't want to write a play that isn't a comedy, I think even serious plays should have comedy in them."

What's endearing about Daniel Jackson, who's dad Eddie ran the prestigious Borderline Theatre Company, is despite achieving huge success such as a Fringe First Award 2010, he's yet to accept he's arrived as a very, very funny playwright.

"It's only recently I've accepted I write comedy," he admits. "I was always wary of saying that's what my plays are because then they come with an expectation.

"But that attitude was a washout. You've got to nail your colours to the mast."

Daniel Jackson has many colours to offer an audience. Some dark, but most very bright indeed.

But his colourful writing in this case is not an attempt to fictionalise any real-life Ulster crimelords who lord it around Ayrshire.

"No one in this play is based on any real person," he says, smiling, yet with a voice pitched to dramatic heights.

"Let's make this very clear."

Kill Johnny Glendinning, The Citizens' Theatre, October 22 November

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