The title of Irvine Welsh's sixth book – premiered here in an adaptation by Harry Gibson, who previously dramatised Trainspotting, Marabou Stork Nightmares and Filth – refers not only to a source of a cheap chemical high, but also to the sticky, shared stuff of place, history and loyalty that binds his four protagonists together.
Extending from the early 1970s to the near-present and running at nearly 500 pages, Glue the novel was greeted as a change of tack on Welsh's part. It allowed greater scope for context, character development and long-term consequentiality than his earlier work. These factors, however, make it trickier to transfer to the stage: a 30-year time-frame isn't easily encompassed, even in an custom-made play, but when combined with the drastic telescoping demanded by the bulky novel, there is significant doubt as to the merits of the exercise.
The strength of the piece, and the source of its compelling energy, lies in the chunks of speech lifted more or less wholesale from Welsh's original first-person narrative. The action opens with three of the four friends – Carl (Des Hamilton), Billy (Stewart Porter) and Terry (John Kazek) – settling down for a few beers and reminiscences after the funeral of Carl's father. Vivid monologue vignettes offer snapshots of the characters growing up on one of Edinburgh's bleak housing schemes, from (relative) childhood innocence, through teenage and twentysomething flirtations with sex, drugs and delinquency, to the eventual success attained by two of the three present – Carl as a DJ, Billy as a boxer-turned-bar-owner – while Terry continues to divide his time between petty thieving and women. The fourth, the haplessly naive Gally (Martin O'Connor), succumbed some time back to a combination of drugs, ill luck and despair. His quasi-ghostly presence and desolate fate emerge as a touchstone for the values and codes underpinning the friends' mutual adhesion.
The familiar Welsh trademarks are present: the unmitigated, expletive-heavy "schemie" argot, descriptions of fumbling sexual encounters, episodes of stomach-turning violence, and the shifting, brilliantly challenging interplay of humour and horror. But a key problem is the loss of the novel's signposting of the passing years with references to changing fashions in music, narcotics and social mores, along with the sense of wider socio-political context. Partly for this reason, the characters all struggle to escape from two dimensions.
As a warts-and-all study of contemporary masculine confusion and male allegiance, Glue the play promises more than it delivers – a shortfall best remedied by returning to the book.
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