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Performance (1970)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Chas is an East End enforcer for a small time gangster named Harry Flowers. His violent panache and enthusiasm for his trade have given him a reputation as a 'performer', a man who has a particularly theatrical talent for aggressive intimidation.

Chas and his colleagues go about their daily tasks with relish. They drive to a car-hire office in order to put pressure on the owner to join Harry's group of companies. The owner's excuses lead to his office being vandalised and threats being made on his life. Later, Chas intimidates a rival gangster and his barrister, pouring acid on his Rolls Royce and shaving the head of his chauffeur.

Harry wishes to acquire a betting shop owned by Joey Maddox, once a close friend of Chas. Harry intends to 'persuade' Joey to join him. Against Harry's orders, Chas goes to the betting shop and takes Joey back to the office. Harry berates Chas for his lack of restraint and politeness.

Chas discovers that Joey is waiting at his flat, having splashed blood on the walls. After a brutal whipping, Chas gets the upper hand, shooting Joey and watching him die. One of Joey's friends escapes and informs on Chas. Harry, now an accessory to murder, demands that Chas be eliminated.

Chas plans to escape. A friend, Tony, offers to help but Chas decides to hide in London while he decides what to do. He overhears a conversation about a flat that is free at 81 Powys Square in Notting Hill.

Arriving in Notting Hill, Chas, calling himself Johnny Dean, offers to rent the room, but gets only cryptic answers and unreasonable rent demands from a woman named Pherber, who is acting on behalf of Turner, the owner of the house. Turner, a successful rock singer, is a recluse, relying on sex and drugs to stave off boredom. Taking an instant dislike to Chas, he claims that the room is not available but becomes interested when Chas claims to be a professional juggler. He decides that Chas can stay but that the arrangement is only on a daily basis.

Turner lives in the main part of the house with Pherber and Lucy, a young French girl. They are unsure about their new lodger. Chas, who hates drop-outs, is equally unenthusiastic, but realises that he must hide for as long as he can. He phones Tony who can get him a fake ID if he can supply a picture. Chas asks his hosts if he can use their Polaroid camera to take a picture of him in disguise. They dress him as an old-style mobster for the photograph, questioning him and feeding him hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Under the influence of drugs, Chas is open to suggestions that he should wear something more exotic and allows Pherber to dress him in an androgynous curly wig. Becoming paranoid, he screams that he has been poisoned. Gradually he calms down and Turner reads him the Persian legend of Hasan-bin-Sabah, which convinces Chas that he is in paradise.

Chas becomes rational and claims that he hates being dressed up and that he is 'normal. Pherber tends the wounds on his back, and explains that Turner has gone into seclusion because he has lost the demon which gives him creativity. Chas may be the demon Turner needs. Turner explains that he and Pherber have enjoyed Chas's performance and now feel that it's time for him to see them perform. In his warped reality, Chas sees Turner take Harry's identity, singing Memo From T while watched by Harry's henchmen who undress themselves.

Chas returns to his room where Lucy seduces him and they make love. In his curly wig, Chas is almost identical to Turner. They discuss paradise and Persia, seemingly indistinguishable.

Chas asks Tony to come to the house, but Tony has double-crossed him. Harry's men arrive at the house in order to take Chas back to Harry but give him time to go upstairs. Chas goes into Turner's bedroom and shoots him in the head. Going back downstairs, he is driven away in Harry's car, leaving a note for Lucy saying "Gone to Persia".