West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Opened 25 February, 1998

Irvine Welsh he's so mid-nineties. For that brief instant a while back, Welsh was simply essential: you had to read his books, had to see the adaptations most notably the first, Ian Brown-directed stage production of Trainspotting. But with growing awareness not least on Welsh's own part of his status as "poet laureate of the chemical generation", matters changed: you had to have read the books or have seen the shows or films. He is now simply a set text for a particular generational/cultural syllabus, with all the freshness and threat that implies.

You'll Have Had Your Hole, Welsh's first purpose-scripted stage play, receiving its première at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, concerns itself more with fireworks words and phrases, moments of action which go off loud and bright than the themes of revenge and redemption which he tries to integrate. Long passages of exposition are slotted in with scant regard for dramatic effect, relying instead on language and performance to carry us through them.

Jinks and Docksey hold Dex (all those "x" sounds in names significant or lazy?) hostage, trussed up to a mechanical pulley in a disused recording studio (allowing for all kinds of cool beats and sampling to be deployed gratuitously); Jinks, who fancies himself as a cat, tortures and anally rapes Dex, while Docksey insinuates his way into the nearby flat, heart and bed of Dex's girlfriend Laney. Docksey, extracting revenge on Dex for having corrupted his soul in an earlier, vicious hoodlum killing, relents because of his growing attachment to Laney founded, it seems, largely on her ownership of a CD of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" but Jinks is by now psychopathically bitter for medical reasons of his own. And that's about the size of it, really.

The success of the uninterrupted 100-minute piece (played out on an ingenious multi-level set desgned by Robin Don) is due almost entirely to the precision and sympathy in direction which are Ian Brown's hallmark, and to a similarly characteristic force-of-nature performance from Tam Dean Burn as Jinks, at once queeny and menacing, and thoroughly feline. Malcolm Shields and Billy McElhaney turn in solid performances, while Kirsty Mitchell is sold short as a typical Welsh woman, called upon to do nothing other than be bedded by Docksey and give him the opportunity to develop feelings for her; as a person, Laney is an irrelevance. It is also interesting that, whereas the homosexual rape of Dex is portrayed in full onstage, the consensual hetero coupling of Laney and Docksey takes place between scenes, and Laney even completes her disrobing under the bedcovers... female flesh and straight sex aren't shocking enough, you see.

No doubt You'll Have Had Your Hole will follow last year's Playhouse production of The Wasp Factory in the admirable achievement of attracting to the theatre an entirely new and welcome demographic grouping. Like my companion on the press night, however, more than a few of them may find that they have had more experience of such a lifestyle than Welsh, and see less in it to lionise. One or two may even be bored slippy by the whole thing.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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