Irvine Welsh, of Trainspotting notoriety, has brought two damp squibs to this year’s Fringe: Performers and Creatives. The former is set in an office in 1960s London where two cockney geezers, Alf (Perry Benson) and Bert (George Russo), talk about art and eagerly await the arrival of a director, the Godot of the production, who never graces us with his presence.
The cast is promising, but the writing sadly falls flat; Irvine Welsh’s name fails as a stamp of quality. There are two other characters: Crispin (Lewis Kirk), the absent director’s beatnik acolyte, who attempts to goad Alf and Bert into the naked world of avant-garde film, and also the gobby typist Flo (Maya Gerber), Alf’s niece, who interjects on occasion to complain about misogyny in the workplace.
The premise of Performers centres around cinema: thugs Alf and Bert are gangsters that are cooperating with a director on the cult classic 1970 film Performance, starring James Fox and Mick Jagger, where the murky underbelly of organised crime collides with the flourishing status of popular rock music.
The production does well to create a sense of 1960s nostalgia, but this is as far as its success goes. The plot gradually devolves into aimless farce. Crispin wants to screen-test Alf and Bert, but the twist is that he wants them to strip down to their birthday suits – Alf sees it as an opportunity to be a part of an esoteric bourgeois industry, whereas Bert views it as nothing more than crude pornography. The pair disagree and bring in questions about honour.
The weirdest part of Performers is the oscillating characterisation of the typist Flo. At one moment she is the shy coquettish type, at another a masterful extractor of cash – she blackmails £50 out of Bert’s pocket in order to keep their affair a secret from her overprotective uncle. She’s not easy to crack, which brings into question Welsh’s writing ability for this show. It’s frustrating how she purrs like a kitten in one scene, then strikes like a panther in the next; the script is unrealistic in its yo-yoing.
All in all, Performers is a bit of a disappointment, since it lacks that vigour and quotable aspect of Trainspotting. There is no superb ‘Choose life’ monologue or sprint down Princes Street – Performers is a series of mediocre exchanges that fail to elicit the laughter Welsh’s writing strains for. Welsh lays on heaps of 1960s elements with flares, Kodak cameras, subculture, beehive hair, old movie posters and kitsch, but these are misaligned – they are there simply for the sake of being there, rather than to add to the narrative, which is to the detriment of Performers.