I knew nothing about Irvine Welsh’s Filth before seeing this theatrical adaptation of his novel, but judging by what I do know of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, this wasn’t going to be for the fainthearted, and I suspected this was going to be a show best enjoyed in a state of being unshockable. It’s pretty much trademark Welsh, as DI Bruce Robertson (Jake Francis) indulging the audience in toilet humour within seconds of the show starting.
References to Deep Purple, Whitesnake and other similar bands that seem to be somewhere between hard rock and heavy metal went over my head, purely because it isn’t the sort of thing I ordinarily listen to, but the intensity and passion of Robertson’s music preferences is palpable. Nothing is done by halves in this production, even down to the exorbitant amount of sugar taken with a hot drink.
Given Robertson’s work with what is now known as Police Scotland (the play appears to have been set before the era of mobile telephony), the worst excesses of recklessness are noticeably absent (or, rather, well hidden) compared with the narrative of Trainspotting. Still, his home is untidy if uncluttered, but the living conditions could be better and the darkest of dark humour permeates through the evening’s proceedings. The pacing is almost relentlessly brisk, and a large number of characters are voiced quite convincingly. ‘Voiced’ is the operative word, for the most part – there are only a couple of costume changes, both in the final few minutes of the performance.
The play came across as more than a tad unfocused, inasmuch as I couldn’t work out what the play was really trying to say in its descriptions and dramatisations of Robertson’s colourful life. A misogynistic outlook towards the fairer sex seemed even more outdated now than it did when the novel was first published in 1998. The show’s title, in other words, does not fall foul of the Trade Descriptions Act. And I have no idea why this Scots character kept slipping into Cockney rhyming slang, particularly given a somewhat stereotypical antagonism towards the English.
Robertson’s devil-may- care lifestyle gets graphic when it wants to, but commendably this production pulls back from being overtly vivid for the sake of it. It’s telling that the audience at the performance I attended chuckled more than they groaned. Even so, all these sexual conquests being portrayed did get repetitive after a while, and many of the characters as interpreted through Robertson’s perspective were antagonistic enough for me not to feel much, if any, sympathy for them. Further, I daresay the pining for his ex-wife, while poignant, came across (in hindsight) as out of character for someone who was otherwise living the bachelor life to the full.
If the plot is all over the place, the character development is deep and substantial. What makes this production compelling is Francis’ sheer commitment to the role. This is a performer who works hard at his craft, and deserved the standing ovation received. There just wasn’t enough in the script to maintain my personal interest throughout, but the tour de force performance more than outweighs that. An irreverent, lively and energetic production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
From the writer of Trainspotting comes Irvine Welsh’s irreverent, one-man stage play Filth, adapted by Harry Gibson. New theatre company Skin&Bone are producing this anarchic, tour-de-force production with actor Jake Francis playing over thirty characters in a story of sleaze, power and the abuse of just about everything.
18th to 20th August 2017
above the Oxford Arms
265 Camden High Street
London NW1 7BU