Review: Choose theatre, get ecstatic

A proper stage play by Irvine Welsh?

James Christopher anticipates a shot in the arm for theatre-goers

There can be few more transparent conspiracies than the union of the wild man of Edinburgh letters, Irvine Welsh, and the ex-Traverse theatre director Ian Brown. One is steeped in the ways of Edinburgh's council schemes, football casuals and drugs. The other personifies "cutting edge" theatre. They have joined forces to stage Welsh's first proper stage play, You'll Have Had Your Hole, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Why, you wonder, does Welsh bother with the impoverished world of theatre? From his books, and the film of his novel Trainspotting, he never has to pick up a Biro again.

Yet, for someone yet to see his first play staged, Welsh already has a colourful theatrical record. The stage version of Trainspotting is still touring the world. A dramatisation of Marabou Stork Nightmares, Welsh's third book, lasted until 10 minutes into opening night, when the actor playing the protagonist lost his voice. And a performance piece, Headstate, that Welsh developed at the Edinburgh Festival with Boilerhouse TC was closed by Greenwich Council before it even had a chance to open, for flaky reasons that had more to do with drugs hype than fire regulations.

Welsh's work translates to theatre and film with surprising ease, as shown by the success of Trainspotting. Once you attune to the Edinburgh patois, it's hard to forget his prose, as spoken and thought by some of the most unsavoury characters in British literature, and the aspirations of a group of working-class Edinburgh schemies can be as luridly exposed on screen as they are on the page.

Welsh argues that, after the screenplays, the novels, the poetry and that bizarre sheaf of short stories The Acid House, a conventional stage play was only a matter of time. Perhaps. It appears to have been Ian Brown who asked Welsh to write a play - and three years later, Welsh called to say he'd finished it.

Now they're sitting opposite me in the canteen at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, forking curry, an oddly matched couple with a common fascination with the extremes of human behaviour. If Brown has cultivated his interests a little more circumspectly than Welsh, it is not for want of trying. His productions of the Canadian playwright Brad Fraser's Unidentified Human Remains and The True Nature of Love, and Poor Super Man at the Traverse and Hampstead theatres, revealed a demonic taste for modern Jacobean nightmares.

Welsh is tall, lanky, with a cherubic face buttonholed by round, blue eyes; Brown is Mr Urbane, smooth, stylish, with a neat haircut. They are surprisingly good company. Welsh even manages to procure a strong prescription drug for me to sort out a force 10 migraine. He passes it, fist to fist, at the end of the interview and says, "Mind, only have a couple eh pints." I feel as if I've just scored a tab from Timothy Leary.

Pat though it may sound, it's the team thing that Welsh finds beguiling about scripts. As he wrote recently, "Success is only something you can value if it's shared", and "Playing God [writing novels] can be a lonely business".

Perhaps only Welsh could have given that Morningside phrase "You'll have had your tea" from Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie the sardonic spin of the title of his new play You'll Have Had Your Hole. "The phrase seeped into Glasgow culture as a way of satirising the meanness and snobbishness of Edinburgh," says Welsh in his po-faced Edinburgh brogue. "The idea that you've arrived somewhere and you're expected to have fed yourself already."

Welsh's play, however, has little to do with sending up stingy old ladies with social pretensions. Set in a deserted, sound-proof music studio, it revolves around two young amphetamine-addled henchmen who kidnap, string up and torture an acquaintance. There is a vintage Welsh ending for those worried about the loss of form shown in the author's 1996 novel, Ecstasy.

"It's about an old score being settled," says Brown. "It's a bit of rough justice, skewed by the fact that they get more involved than they intended to. There's not much future left for the two jailers, so they don't have much to lose."

On the page, it reads like an old-fashioned revenge tragedy with a large dose of black comedy. People underestimate Welsh's sense of humour. They get dazzled by the horrific plot twists and miss the bathos. In Trainspotting, it's the "reformed" heroin addict panning the shit in a blocked toilet bowl for the methadone suppositories he's excreted. In The Granton Star Cause, it's the unfortunate Boab being turned into a large fly by God for no better reason than that he's "a lazy, apathetic, slovenly cunt". In You'll Have Had Your Hole, it is the peculiar code of honour under which everyone operates.

"There's a moral heart to the play," says Brown.

"There's got to be, really," says Welsh. "Now society has become so diverse, so has morality. Everyone is accountable. But people work out their own, depending on how society and culture shape them."

"If the Boy Scouts had got to them when they were kids, they'd have ended up as social workers," says Brown. "But a chance meeting with gangsters sucked them into a whole different process."

Brown has seen this kind of scenario before, notably with Brad Fraser's plays. "I do gravitate to stuff where I can get hold of the nub of a particular problem, regardless of whether people say it's shock-horror or not," he says. "There's a side of me that's drawn to the dark ... Good drama comes out of people in extremis. There's a lot of power in characters being in the middle of something terrifying."

Are they the same kind of characters who populate Trainspotting?

"They're roughly from the same background," says Welsh, "but the Trainspotting characters are mostly innocents. They don't really understand what kind of situations they get themselves in by taking drugs. This crew know what that subculture is all about."

For Brown, the challenge is tapping into that subculture and exposing Welsh's enormous non-theatrical audience to an experience he thinks they are actively denied. I ask Welsh whether he wanted to prove that he could do it. "I think I wrote it because I hadn't written a play before, rather than to prove something to myself ... Plays are a lot easier than novels. Novels are for control freaks. They're harder to road-test and there's a lot more writing. Scripts, however, are ... part of a process where you hand the responsibility on. I don't feel I've got to write another, but then again I don't feel I've got to write another book or film script either."

Needless to say, there is one of each due out this summer.

`You'll Have Had Your Hole': previews from 19 February, opens 24 February and continues to 21 March, at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Quarry Hill, Leeds (0113 213 7700)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesChuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

    £550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

    Data Insight Manager - Marketing

    £32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

    Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

    £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

    .NET Developer

    £600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf