If Quentin Tarantino is the king of violence, then Irvine Welsh is the undisputed king of filth. Filth, incidentally, is the title of Welsh’s 1998 novel. It was adapted into a one-man play by Harry Gibson, first performed in 1999 by veteran Leith actor Tam Dean Burn, and in 2013 was adapted into a film starring James McAvoy. In this Skin & Bone production, young actor Jake W Francis takes on the role of Bruce Robertson – a decidedly un-politically correct police officer – as well as numerous other vivid, lurid personas.
In true Welshian fashion, Detective Robertson is less morally grey than he is unambiguously perverted and malicious. He enjoys harassing a woman with lecherous phone calls, he makes numerous homophobic and racist remarks (at one point putting on a stereotypical ‘Chinese’ accent) and he graphically describes the pornography that he likes to watch. Filth is true to its title. Prepare to be as disgusted as you are fascinated by Robertson’s monologue jumping from horror story to horror story.
Francis’ acting is undisputedly impressive, and his Scottish accent is flawless. However, the play suffers from being a one-person show. Whilst Francis injects a unique personality and voice into every character in the play, the reliance on just his rambling monologue means that events quickly become confusing. This is partly deliberate, because it becomes increasingly apparent that Detective Robertson is not psychologically sound. Maddening confusion is part of the fabric of this tale, as Robertson goes on about his tormenting rash and the tapeworm in his body.
Theatrical depictions of madness have a long history dating back to Hamlet and earlier. Yet the key to such depictions is that there be a method in the madness, something holding the plot together in some shape or form. Filth in many ways resembles Coriolanus Vanishes (also showing at the Fringe); both are about seemingly ordinary individuals capable of despicable acts, both lead characters are mentally unsound, and both plays deal with harrowingly dark themes. Yet whilst Coriolanus Vanishes uses humour and beautiful lighting to form a contrast to the darkness at the play’s heart, Filth is unrelentingly, well, filthy – even the jokes.
Perhaps the reason why Trainspotting (both the book and the film) are such a phenomenal success was because it achieves this crucial balance between light and dark. Conversely, Trainspotting Live (showing at the EICC this Fringe) opts for too much of the light over the dark. It is a drug-fuelled pantomime, complete with full frontal nudity and frequent audience interaction. Filth steers clear of such theatricalities for the most part, with only the briefest amount of nudity. Yet you cannot help regretting at times that it is not more like Trainspotting Live. The light and sound effects are minimal, adding to the sense of confusion, as the audience has little to cling on to beyond the words and actions of the actor.
Skin & Bone Theatre Company states that it is “dedicated to executing fearless and controversial theatre performances with no airs and graces”. In Filth it has certainly produced a fearless and controversial production. However, a dash of air and grace might not have been a bad thing.
The Space on North Bridge – Perth Theatre (Venue 36)
9-18 August (not 12)
Image: Skin & Bone Theatre