The London run of Irvine Welsh's first purpose-scripted stage play is being marketed on that supposed "bard of the chemical generation" cachet – by-passing the theatre scene altogether, it is staged in a rock club, advertised by fly-posters on sites which normally plug rock albums and festooned with condemnatory quotes from reviews of its first outing in Leeds last February. The thing is, the critical community was not outraged by a slice of hard-hitting, cutting-edge truth – we were insulted by a load of badly written, monotonous tripe. Parts of the piece have been rewritten since then, so that where it was once transcendentally ghastly it is now merely dreadful.
Jinks and Docksey hold Dex (all those "x" sounds in names – significant or lazy?) hostage, trussed up 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, almost relents because of his growing attachment to Laney – founded, it seems, largely on her ownership of a decent collection of soul albums – but Jinks is by now psychopathically bitter that his virus has gone full-blown... And that's about the size of it, really.
If anything, the rewrites and re-staging have rendered ...Hole much more coy. True, the hetero sex is now at least shown onstage, but both it and the anal rape are brief and non-graphic – a far cry from the original production, in which Tam Dean Burn's force-of-nature Jinks took lengthy, detailed delight in violating Dex. Where once stood an ingenious multi-level set design, the cramped ad-hockery of the Astoria's smaller club space (and the need to clear the set within an hour for club nights) can scarcely accommodate more than a sofa and a scaffolding tower. The precision and sympathy in direction which are Ian Brown's hallmark are similarly worn thin, and even the normally indefatigable Burn seems unable to summon up sufficient queeny, feline menace this time around. Kirsty Mitchell is still sold short as a typical Welsh woman, called upon to do little other than be bedded by Docksey and give him the opportunity to develop feelings for her; as a person, Laney is an irrelevance.
Look, let's be honest: the whole affair is pervaded by the acrid stench of exploitation. The cast know it, the club staff know it, and promoter Phil McIntyre most definitely knows it. Fortunately, the public seem to have twigged as well, or simply to have given up caring about Welsh; the evening after the show's "gala opening", I estimate the house to have been less than half full. As for me, I curse my conscientiousness in having felt obliged to see the damned thing for a second time; I was, frankly, bored slippy.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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