‘WHY are women attracted to men like this?” asks a woman with a notepad, gesturing towards the man in the centre of the room. “Men are dogs,” she continues. “They will sleep, eat and fuck anywhere.”

This man is Thomas McCrudden, a dog by his own definition. Former gangland enforcer, and regular at “Hotel Barlinnie” he was a man so feared, a young inmate committed suicide rather than be in his presence. This is the same McCrudden who made the air turn pitch black last year with Doubting Thomas, and Doglife is the second part of a trilogy based on his autobiographical writings.

Presented by Grassmarket Productions, the company formed in 1990 by Jeremy Weller to create a kind of lived, verbatim theatre that crosses the boundaries between the private and the public, Doglife is certainly true to Grassmarket’s recognition that “so-called ordinary lives can have the power of Greek tragedy”.

Whereas Doubting Thomas focused on the male-dominated world of crime, prison and physical violence, Doglife sees McCrudden, who again performs as himself alongside a cast of untrained actors, confront the harm his behaviour has caused the women in his life. And though less bloody, that pain is every bit as real and searing.

Most will have heard of serial killer groupies, the women who write love letters to convicted criminals, those who even become accomplices in terrible crimes, but the women depicted here all reject and abhor McCrudden’s violence – if they’re aware of it.

What they are all aware of however, is his inability to love.

“I’m no supposed to talk about love,” says one. “You’re a big baby. It’s sad. But you know what’s sadder? Thinking my love can change you.”

McCrudden, as another says, is “supposed to be different”. He can be tender, and is not depicted as being phycically violent towards the women. He doesn’t need to be. His brooding presence is usually enough, and when the “L-word” is mentioned, his eyes change to a terrifying black.

“I can’t love like yoos” he says, “because of what I’ve done.” A psychologist, like one the woman with the notepad is assumed to depict, may tell you that both his inability to love, and the crimes he’s committed, stem from early trauma.

As McCrudden says, the predominant emotion growing up wasn’t love, but fear of violence, and “the fear of the deed is more terrifying than the deed itself.”

As Abraham Maslow set out in his famous hierarchy or human needs, love and belonging are dependent on a person’s safety and basic physiological needs being met. Being loved can arouse anxiety as it threatens long-standing defences formed in early life.

That is, it can make a person feel like a “big baby”. That a former hard man is willing to show himself at his most vulnerable is commendable, and braver than any gang-related “hit”. And issues of self-acceptance, and of giving and receiving love, don’t just apply to former gangsters, but also to us, those he describes as “walking through the flowers instead of broken glass.”

That search for connection – a constant Weller says he finds in his work with prisoners and ex-offenders – is universal. As McCrudden says:”There’s a bit of me inside you. We’re all part of the same pack.”

Until Aug 27 (not 14, 21), Summerhall, (V26), £10, £8 concs. Tel: 0131 226 0000 edfringe.com