Seven days of TV view­ing

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - DEB­BIE SCHIPP Un­der­belly: Ra­zor, WIN, Sun­day, 8.30pm

ONE ruled Syd­ney’s sly grog shops. One ruled its broth­els. The third was the one ev­ery gang­ster wanted on his arm. Kate Leigh, Tilly Devine and Nel­lie Cameron were the brash, sharp-tongued, sharp­think­ing and ruth­less women who ruled Syd­ney’s un­der­world in the 1920s. Leigh and Devine were the queens of vice – there were no kings.

Now they are the char­ac­ters brought to life by ac­tors Chelsie Pre­ston Cray­ford, Danielle Cormack and Anna McGa­han ( pic­tured) in the lat­est and most colour­ful in­stal­ment of WIN’S crime drama fran­chise, Un­der­belly.

Un­der­belly: Ra­zor is the drama­ti­sa­tion of the book Ra­zor, which took six years to re­search as author Larry Writer delved into the his­tory of the ra­zor gangs that bat­tled for con­trol of Syd­ney’s un­der­world.

Un­der­belly: Ra­zor tells the story of Devine and Leigh’s bat­tle to reign supreme in a world built on sly grog, pros­ti­tu­tion, il­le­gal drugs, ex­tor­tion and gam­bling.

It’s also the story of how that bat­tle turned to pure men­ace when an in­ter­loper from Mel­bourne ( Nor­man Bruhn, played with chill­ing men­ace by Jeremy Lind­say Tay­lor) de­cided to take the town from the girls and, know­ing you could be jailed for pos­ses­sion of a gun, brought in a new weapon to in­tim­i­date – the cut-throat ra­zor.

Lav­ishly shot and cos­tumed, Ra­zor is as colour­ful as it is bru­tal. It’s a story richly told with vi­o­lence, a huge dose of his­tory and with an in­jec­tion of hu­mour.

For Ki­wis Cormack and Pre­ston Cray­ford, the lead roles of Leigh and Devine seem set to ce­ment their ca­reers in Aus­tralia.

For McGa­han, it’s a heck of a step up from her two small tele­vi­sion drama roles since grad­u­at­ing from drama school in Bris­bane last year.

Pre­ston Cray­ford has buried her thick Kiwi ac­cent to take on the per­sona of brothel madam Devine, ex­chang­ing it for South Lon­don tones with a touch of cock­ney. When she au­di­tioned for the role, she mod­elled the ac­cent on Amy Wine­house, who had the same amount of dis­re­gard as Tilly for what any­one thought of her.

She re­fined the ac­cent with a voice coach as she un­cov­ered a char­ac­ter who she de­scribes as ‘‘ brash, bold . . . lots of ‘ b’ words . . . brave and a bit of a bitch’’.

‘‘ Tilly was ruth­less. She’d do any­thing to pro­tect what she had es­tab­lished, and was in­cred­i­bly re­source­ful,’’ Pre­ston Cray­ford says.

Pre­ston Cray­ford’s close mate Cormack is charged with a sim­i­lar char­ac­ter in Leigh, a sly grog shops and gam­bling den owner.

Cormack was last seen on Aus­tralian screens as Scar­let ‘‘ Red’’ Meagher in crit­i­cally ac­claimed ABC drama Rake last year and her tal­ents are again on show. She was drawn to the role be­cause Leigh was such a strong fe­male char­ac­ter which she says is so rare. Cormack de­scribes the ex­ple­tive-spit­ting Leigh as a woman de­fined by her gru­elling up­bring­ing.

She rel­ished the scenes in which Leigh and Tilly Devine went head to head.

‘‘ Their re­la­tion­ship was like a great af­fair. They were ob­sessed with each other, for bet­ter or worse,’’ she says.

‘‘ Per­haps that fu­elled them to stay at the pin­na­cle of the un­der­world they in­hab­ited.’’

Ra­zor is a heady and deadly dra­matic mix. And it looks just the tonic the Un­der­belly fran­chise needs.

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