It’s fair to say that anything with the name of Irvine Welsh attached to it is going to attract attention in the capital. The acclaimed stage adaptation of Trainspotting looks like it could be an audience magnet for years to come. Understandably not wanting to be defined by a work of art nearing its quarter century, Welsh, in conjunction with long-term collaborator Dean Cavanagh, presents an all-new production, Perfomers.
It’s London in 1969, and Alf (Perry Benson) and Bert (George Russo) are two low-level low lives auditioning for Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg‘s seminal slice of psychedelia, Performance, which famously cast real London gangsters alongside James Fox and Mick Jagger. It’s an intriguing premise, and was blurbed as being a cross between Waiting For Godot and The Italian Job. Sadly, if there’s any evocation of the purgatory of Beckett’s celebrated work, it’s purely for the audience forced to sit through this flaccid Cockney drag.
Doing for rhyming slang what Tarantino does for the “N word,” Performers refers often to the concept of authenticity with what one hopes is a massive wedge of irony. Benson and Russo are somehow lumbered with the burden of their own voices sounding false. One can’t help evoking the Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh, as the dialect is so hyper-exaggerated that is merely amplifies the artificiality of the stage space.
The two bumbling gangsters mumble inane dialogue at each other interminably, broken up by an occasional appearance by Alf’s niece, and later by a studio dogsbody who tries to convince the hoodlums to take their kit off for artistic purposes. That’s pretty much it. There’s some waffle about Borges and Francis Bacon, presumably as a means of ramming home the postmodern credentials of the piece. It all however gets swallowed up in the vacuum of inconsequence that lies at the heart of the play; or rather, the gaping hole where the heart should be.
How the writer of Trainspotting has served up something quite as trite and banal is a tad mystifying. Even those who aren’t necessarily overly enamoured with some of Welsh’s more recent output can’t deny the grimy sense of place, and yes, authenticity that rises from the page like the smoke from a burning heroin spoon. Sadly, there’s none of that in Performers. There’s no hook, no twist, not even any of the willful extremity we know he’s capable of. It’s a yawning blank of a play.