Running With the Firm

From the title, I thought this show might be like Glengarry Glenn Ross with more jogging. For the benefit of any fellow confused Americans out there: this is about a very different kind of firm. I don’t think they wear business suits or carry briefcases. In the 1980s, James Bannon worked as an undercover policeman infiltrating Millwall football hooligans, or 'firm'. His story has since been turned into a film, a book and now a one-man show. While Bannon is aggressively self-promotional and the show is too loosely structured, his reminiscing is gripping. It’s not very accessible to anyone not already familiar with the topic but this is the perfect show for anyone interested in the history of football hooliganism or the mechanics of mob psychology.

The show opens with a projected montage apparently themed ‘Anything that Ever Happened in the 80’s’. I’m not entirely sure what the Royal Wedding or ABBA had to do with football, but the projector does serve a purpose during the rest of the show, as Bannon monologues in front of a changing backdrop of chapter titles, photographs and footage of Millwall riots. He recounts how he gained acceptance from the Millwall ultras, ended up actually joining in several firm clashes, and wound up questioning whether running with the firm was his job or his life. Bannon is a gifted extemporaneous storyteller: Like all yarn-spinners, his credibility is sometimes dubious and he glosses over certain details. For example, he claims he told his Millwall mates he was unable to read or write but never fully explains exactly how he kept up this massive and easily evident lie. Also, he’s a better speaker than he is an author. When Bannon pauses to read sections from his book, the otherwise enthralling show goes dead. He also repeatedly plugged his book to the audience, which is understandable but distracting.

The show works best when Bannon gets caught up in the action and adrenaline of his memories, and when he explores the human element of going undercover - he became close friends with the Millwall firm members. It’s less interesting when he spends time incriminating his former partners and superiors. Also, the story starts to wander a bit towards the end. Bannon’s spontaneity is excellent, but it was a bit awkward when the venue management called during the show to announce that he’d run over time, forcing him to conclude hastily.

Overall, though, this one-man show is ideal for die-hard football fans and undercover-police-story aficionados. It isn’t anything like Glengarry Glen Ross, (although there are lots of four-letter words) and there isn’t any actual running, yet Bannon is a great storyteller with a great story to tell.

Reviews by Lauren Moreau

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Performances

The Blurb

Told by the man himself. Gary Oldman said to James Bannon: ‘We play at this, you did it for real, no second takes. F*ck it up and your dead.' Experience what it's like to live undercover.