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Irvine Welsh’s Porno at the Arts Theatre, London

Somewhat constrained by being largely set in the Port Sunshine, a (fictional) pub in Leith, an area merged into Edinburgh in 1920 (despite, as this play points out, a referendum at the time in which the people of Leith largely voted against the merger), there’s a lot of exposition in the first half of this production, to the point where the narrative becomes difficult to follow. The audience’s patience is rewarded after the interval – there is enough intrigue to tempt people back into the theatre for the second half – and then there’s the added challenge of some of the characters’ colloquialisms. The key is not to even try to understand every word of every line spoken. It’s fast and fluid.

Porno - Credit Kenny Ramsey.
Porno – Credit Kenny Ramsey.

There’s also plenty of ‘eff, cee and effing cee’, except here it’s mostly ‘cee’ – Begbie (Chris Gavin) is very much the kind of man who has spent a considerable amount of time in prison and has become someone with uncontrollable rage as a result. It is with some amusement – ‘dark humour’ would be the technical term – that he seems to think of almost everyone apart from Sick Boy (Tony McGeever) as a ‘cee’. Such is his determination to rid the world of certain people that it eventually backfires on him.

Despite the show’s title, there aren’t any scenes featuring adult entertainment – fair enough: as the play hints, there’s the internet for that sort of thing. The closest thing to actual intimacy is an attempt by Lizzie (Jenni Duffy) to kiss Renton (Liam Harkins), the latter helping to bankroll Sick Boy’s blue movies venture. Then there’s Spud (Kevin Murphy), who gets a subplot of his own, involving his addiction and mental health struggles and various attempts at getting his literary work published, and Knox (Tom Carter), Lizzie’s father, who is naturally protective but is also, as Lizzie would have it, a ‘dinosaur’, in the sense of having some outdated viewpoints and outlooks, itself a source of more dark humour.

There isn’t a huge amount of set and props, which keeps the scene changes swift, and the audience’s attention largely focused on the dialogue. Adapting an eighty-chapter book into a play is an ambitious undertaking, although here, the various narrative strands are brought to a conclusion rather too neatly and too quickly: certain people go off into the sun, certain others have their dreams suddenly come true. What was a fairly gritty production, and a very sweary one at that, suddenly becomes a fairytale, giving the show a forced happy ending. The audience at the performance I attended lapped it up, though, and I suppose it is better to file out of the theatre smiling than feeling down in the dumps.

There was also a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts when one of the characters is talking about motion pictures, noting how a sequel is never better than the original. Still, the actors work well together in a production that couldn’t possibly be accused of going on for too long.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Fifteen years after TRAINSPOTTING, what has become of Renton, Sickboy, Begbie & Spud? Disturbing, shocking & extremely funny. Contains swearing, sexual language, debauchery, drug use and even more swearing. As if you’d expect anything else

A full length stage adaptation of the novel by the same name, which sold out one of the largest Pleasance venues at a month long run at Edinburgh Fringe ’22, earning rave reviews from audiences and critics. The show has since toured the UK before transferring to the West End.

Mark Renton hasn’t been back to Leith since… well, since he robbed his pals and fucked off to Amsterdam. Life has been… good? But there’s always been something missing. How will SICKBOY, BEGBIE & SPUD react to the return of RENTON? Have they all settled down and become respectable members of society? Did they CHOOSE LIFE? Absolutely not!

https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/

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