Violence is NOT Glamorous: Camilla Whitehill on the cult of the Kray Twins

From armed robbery to arson and murder, The Kray Twins were a nasty pair - so why has history made them glamorous? Playwright Camilla Whitehill explains how her reaction to popular depictions of the Krays has lead to her latest one-woman play Where Do Little Birds Go?, which comes to the Underbelly this August.

You’ll see hipsters with Kray Twins tattoos

I’ve always been interested in crime. It’s morbid of me. I like to know the grisly details and try to figure out how things happened. I’ve read a lot of books about serial killers and high school shooters and I know it’s weird. What can I say? I am weird.

When I started to read about the Kray Twins, it was a slight departure from my usual field of interest. Yes, they were murderers, but weren’t they slightly glamorous celebrity murderers? Maybe they murdered someone really mean. Maybe their violence was more acceptable than others’ violence. I mean, there are films and books and television shows about them. David Bailey photographed them, for goodness’ sake. If you search for #kraytwins on Instagram, you’ll see hipsters with Kray Twins tattoos. It’s sexy violence! Right?

I read a lot of different books about them and got down past the sparkly celebrity skin and into the real, dirty, scary details of how the Krays operated. I read about Lisa Prescott, a nightclub hostess they locked in a flat alongside an escaped violent criminal. Reading that story lead me to write Where Do Little Birds Go? – I was so taken aback by their treatment of this woman and the complete and utter lack of detail about her by the biographers of the time. The stories I read about them horrified and sickened me. The coolness with which they inflicted violence and terror, the lives they ruined, the human beings gunned down in their pursuit of power. But when we think of them, we think of glitzy 60’s celebrities, comedy cockney rhyming slang, sharp suits and cocktail dresses. We don’t think of rape, torture, bullets to the brain. We don’t think of bodies sinking slowly to the bottom of the ocean, lashed to a concrete block.

Thinking of any violent criminal as iconic or legendary is problematic in the extreme, but the Kray Twin thing has gone too far. You can buy t-shirts, badges, lighters, even cufflinks with their menacing stares plastered over them. I hope my play re-addresses the balance even a tiny bit. They were terrifying. Say 'no' to the tattoo.

About Camilla Whitehill

Camilla originally trained as an actor at the Birmingham School of Acting, graduating in 2012. She has had short plays produced at the Soho Theatre, Park Theatre, Camden People’s Theatre, and Hen & Chickens Theatre. Her adaptation of Jane Eyre received an R&D at the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis. Her short play Icebergs won international short play competition Pint Sized Plays in 2013, and her radio play Pier was recently produced by the Heritage Arts Company. Camilla also makes comedy with sketch group Rat, and is the co-Artistic Director of Heavy Weather Theatre. She was part of the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme for Spring 2014, and is represented by Kitson Management. Where Do Little Birds Go? is her first full-length play.

Listings information:

Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), 56 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1EG

Thursday 6th – Sunday 30th August 2015 (not 17th), 8.55pm