×

Edinburgh Theater Review: Irvine Welsh’s ‘Performers’

With:
Perry Benson, George Russo, Lewis Kirk, Maya Gerber.

In a theater festival with 3,398 shows, it can be hard to get your voice heard. But making his presence felt more than most on this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe is Irvine Welsh, whose name is attached to no fewer than three productions. As well as a revival of “Trainspotting Live,” an immersive adaptation of his debut novel, there is the premiere of “Creatives,” a musical originally staged by Chicago Theater Workshop, and “Performers,” a 1960s gangland comedy co-written by Dean Cavanagh. Sadly, for all its promise, “Performers” does not yet bear comparison with the novel that made Welsh’s name.

There is, however, a funny idea at the heart of the show. When film director Donald Cammell and cinematographer Nicolas Roeg began work on “Performance,” the cult 1970 classic starring James Fox, Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg, they brought on board dialogue coach David Litvinoff. He was a maverick figure whose connections to the gangland underworld of 1960s London extended as far as the notorious mobsters the Kray Twins. Cammell called on Litvinoff to help give authenticity to this movie about a sadistic East London gangster and a bisexual former rock star. Litvinoff duly drew on his contacts to persuade genuine criminals to audition for supporting roles.

What Welsh and Cavanagh identify is that strange cultural moment when bohemian intelligentsia flirted with the world of organized crime. “Performers” is set in Cammell’s office where two thugs, Perry Benson’s avuncular Alfred and George Russo’s skittish Bert, have turned up for a meeting only to find the director has been detained by Mick Jagger. While they wait, they are attended on by Alfred’s niece and office secretary Flo (a spirited Maya Gerber), before being screen-tested by the effete Crispin (a freewheeling Lewis Kirk) who has questionable intentions.

The play sets the gangsters, with their strict code of conduct, designer shoes and three-piece suits, against the bohemians represented by Crispin, with his Afghan waistcoat, Paisley-pattern shirt and fascination with the homoeroticism of painter Francis Bacon. Despite a life of violence and pilfering, it is the criminals who appear conservative next to the new generation of swinging 1960s moviemakers. Alf and Bert look at the free-loving lifestyle of the creative community with a mixture of envy and disgust, recognizing the sexual impulse at the same time as being suspicious of the hippy lack of discipline.

The playwrights do a good job at constructing a pastiche ’60s underworld, peppering the conversation with Cockney rhyming slang and references to characters with names such as “French Claude,” a Soho pornographer. The design by Russell De Rozario (set) and Nat Turner (costume) also pays careful attention to period detail, from Flo’s Twiggy-style eyelashes and white plastic boots to the glass milk bottle served with a pot of tea. It gives “Performers” the sense of being rooted in a real time and place.

What emerges is a modestly amusing near-farce during which Alf is convinced to perform naked, leading to attempts at blackmail and counter-blackmail. Although it works better than “Creatives,” a confused musical about ambition and authenticity among a group of student songwriters, it is more of an extended sketch than a fully realized play. There is potential here to look in depth at the clash in values and the allure of the ’60s gangster at a pivotal cultural moment, and it’d be good to see Welsh and Cavanagh returning to this material. But for now, by focusing on the bit-part players rather than the leading lights, “Performers” remains as breezily superficial as a sitcom.

Edinburgh Theater Review: Irvine Welsh's 'Performers'

Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh; 350 Seats; £15 ($20) top. Opened Aug. 3, 2017; reviewed Aug. 18, 2017. Running time: 1 HOUR.

Production: A Performers Ltd. presentation of a play in one act written by Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh.

Creative: Directed by Nick Moran. Score, Chad Hobson; set design, Russell De Rozario; costume design, Nat Turner.

Cast: Perry Benson, George Russo, Lewis Kirk, Maya Gerber.

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]

  • MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOWby

    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]

  • HBO's 'SUCCESSION

    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content