Theatre review: On the receiving end

You'll Have Had Your Hole
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Theatre: You'll Have Had Your Hole

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Fishing around in your own faeces has become something of an occupational hazard for characters created by Irvine Welsh. In Trainspotting, there was the notorious trawl through a diarrhoea-filled lavatory bowl for those precious opium suppositories. And now, in You'll Have Had Your Hole (the author's first work written expressly for the stage) a character is forced to read the rectal runes, so to speak, in search of his new girlfriend's contact lenses - objects he has unwittingly drunk from the glass of water where she deposited them.

Welsh misses a trick here. Throughout the piece, allusions to pop songs make a sick-joke commentary on the action. Suspended from a harness in a sound-proofed disused recording studio, a small-time gangster is subjected to all manner of violent humiliation by two men in the same business, culminating in Aids-infected anal rape and murder. As a warm-up, he's suffered the torture of having headphones clamped on that are playing a deafening loop of - wait for it - Engelbert Humperdinck's "Please Release Me, Let Me Go". So why not "Don't You Make My Brown Eyes Blue" for the (doubtless now-tinted) contact lens episode?

Directed by Ian Brown, You'll Have Had Your Hole is bound to cause outrage amongst the unthinking. But there's the potential for a powerful play here: it's the intermittent artistic incompetence of the piece, not its morality, that offends. Putting the verbals on the audience with his usual intense, scabrously comic if narrow flair, Welsh serves up a reversal of the sort of nightmare revenge scenario where the justice-seeker grows steadily more warped and alienating. Docksey (Billy McElhaney), we gradually gather, once collaborated with his current torture victim Dex (Malcolm Shields) on the brutal hammer-murder of a very small-fry debtor and family man. With a fascination that borders on envy, Docksey longs to know how Dex can shrug this off as merely "business", when the episode has done his own head in. He wants to probe Dex's hardness and, to help him, he ropes in his frighteningly predatory, butchly effeminate, drug-snorting friend Jinks (a transfixing, shaven-headed Tam Dean Burn), who wants to probe Dex's behind.

The twist is that when, as a parallel part of the revenge scam, Docksey goes to "protect" and bed Dex's frightened girlfriend (Kirsty Mitchell), lo and behold the two of them fall in love and Docksey, who at some stage has apparently done an Open University Arts Foundation course, contracts a bad case of belated virtue. This eventuality is hastened by some dreadful schlock-sentimental writing and by the fact that the flat in question seems to comprise little but a double-bed. We shuttle between the repellently compelling neo-Jacobean strand and an embarrassingly cliched B-movie world where people kill broken birds and human beings possibly through a surfeit of sensitivity rather than the reverse. But love just isn't Welsh's forte, nor is broad-picture political analysis.

It says something of the power of the production, though, that I woke up at 4am, the morning after, in the process of hurling myself from bed and desperately struggling to get out of an imaginary harness. So if I can't give the play five stars, it certainly - which is a tribute of a kind - gave me three bad bruises.

To 21 March. Booking: 0113 213 7700

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