Roy Williams’ 2017 play explores familiar territory: a group of blokes hanging around in a bar, laughing, messing about, and squaring up against each other. As a playwright, Williams trades in testosterone.
Returning to Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, where it played two years ago, The Firm sees a group of old criminal cronies – three black guys, one white guy – gather to toast their recently released pal. They used to be a feared gang, but now they spend their days stacking shelves rather than shoplifting. Until, predictably enough, a young teenager turns up with an idea for one last job.
Formulaic though it is, there’s plenty of rich, resonant stuff in Williams’ play about loyalty, family, masculinity and the changing face of London’s underworld. But the writing hops about too much. Williams’ dialogue is fast, fierce and authentic, but the play as a whole never settles satisfactorily.
Taking place on Alex Marker’s detailed and realistic bar-room set, Denis Lawson’s 90-minute production goes full-throttle from the first. It could really do with being dialled down a bit.
Clarence Smith, George Eggay and Ray Fearon (recently seen in Fleabag) give slick, swaggering performances, but too often they fall into the same repetitive, aggressive rhythms. Jay Simpson and Makir Ahmed give comparatively subtler performances as the relaxed, reformed Leslie and the interloping adolescent Fraser, the former bringing an infectious knockabout glee and the latter a distinct sense of repressed angst to their respective roles.