Irvine Welsh, the well-known author and playwright has just written two new productions ‘Performers’ and ‘Creatives’ which will debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland this August, marking the 70th annual Fringe Festival to date.
‘Performers’ is a play written by himself and Dean Cavanagh and is based on the Scottish filmmaker Donald Cammell’s and Nicolas Roeg’s film “Performance” set in the 60’s but is a very different plot altogether. ‘Creatives’ is a dark, comic pop-opera by Irvine Welsh and Don De Grazia. Featuring the original Chicago cast and a wide-ranging original score by Laurence Mark Wythe.
As I speak to Irvine he is sat opposite Islington Town Hall, it’s dull but warm and he seems chipper.
As the film ‘Performance’ was voted the 48th greatest British film of all time. Are you apprehensive that it won’t ‘live up’ to the premise of the original film?
A very different piece its stand alone, you don’t have to have seen the film to get the play, the play is very much kind of about two guys — it’s a comedy, it’s Samuel Beckett meets Brian Rix basically, so there is an element of slapstick and farce but it is a serious play about the changing sexual morals and the breakdown of class structure in 60s Britain which is kinda quite resonant now but on a much larger scale with the decline of capitalism. It’s a resonant piece disguised as a dark comedy.
So, do you think the issues in this play will resonate with the issues of today?
I think it’s all about changing gender and sexual morals and values because we’ve got the end of the division of labour these things made gender into a very binary concept with walls which are now breaking down. It makes everything up for grabs. These are fascinating times, the art that is going to be coming out in performers and creatives, it’s something that is going to be at the forefront of today.
I know you have already written two stage productions, so how does writing a play differ from writing a book?
When you write a book it’s just you on your own with your own ideas then you send it to your editor and they suggest changes or not based on how successful they think you’ve been. With a musical, you’re devising it from scratch with the director and the other team members. Performers was an authored piece, two writers banging out this idea but then it changes when you get into the theatre.
What was it like working with Dean Cavanagh, did your views differ when bringing this performance to life?
Dean is brilliant to work with and Don and Dean are both close friends, both of them have a friendship that is longer lasting than any work project. So, you bring that element of trust and you can say stuff like ‘fuck off you half-wit, this doesn’t work’ and he’ll be like ‘Yeah, whatever’. But you also look after each other, the passions tend to be shared. We both get excited about something and get the same energy and you know what you want it to be the same thematically etc. You may have some differences but you both have a vision. And when you figure out what you want it just fits. I worked with Tom Mullan and Larry White for Creatives and I find the more people you work with the harder it is to get anonymity. So sometimes I do have to make compromises to see the bigger picture. Sometimes you have to give up that little thing that you’re passionate about using.
Are you afraid that the success from Trainspotting will over shadow any new projects you are part of?
You sell tickets on the back of Trainspotting and it gets pushed up into the light but it makes everything harder because everything is compared to Trainspotting. Sometimes you just want your own little project, but it’s harder to do now. You know that they’re not gonna hit the commercial base, some of the things I’ve done that I didn’t think would be commercial successes have been and other things I thought would take off just didn’t. I guess it’s like having kids, some of them might become brain surgeons but others may be master criminals or stacking shelves at Tesco but you have to love them all equally.
How does art change when exposed to commercialism?
Everything you do has to be out of love, I mean I’m not very good at identifying genres and niches and emotional audience. I tend to just go for it and express myself and just see how it pans out.
Do you have a preference when it comes to a style of writing or are you a man of many talents that can’t be tamed?
I fancy myself as an effluence man who can do anything but you have to stick to what you’re good at but at the same time you have to extend yourself and move out of your comfort zone too, whatever your art is.
What did it feel like when Danny Boyle picked up Trainspotting and turned it into a film?
I saw a ‘Shallow Grave’ and thought it was a good foot between cinematic energy that Danny Boyle and John Hodge had between the characters and the storyline that I brought to it and honestly, I thought it would be a great fit and a great film. Obviously, I was very happy it happened and to be working with very good people. I’m very lucky to have worked with some good people and I mean even in films like Ecstasy that wasn’t a massive hit I still got to work with Rob Heydon and Filth was a big hit but you’re just lucky to work with people like Danny, John and Rob.
Do you think you’ll write any more books or are you focusing more on the stage and TV now? I believe you’re writing a TV series with Dean at the moment, when is that set to be released?
Yeah, I have some meetings about it this afternoon, but I think by talking about it you jinx it. It’s something about talking about TV and film that until you’ve finished shooting the thing it’s not wise to talk about it. Some of them are with Dean, some are by myself but we shall see what happens.
I know that ‘Creatives’ is a musical, so what was it like having to decide on music and what would go into it etc.?
We did it as a workshop piece but we have a great composer a guy called Larry White who can just write anything, he can knock songs out that are cutesy fairy ballads but he can do country and western songs or he can do a rap number. We have them all in the piece. It’s going to be a fantastic piece of work. We are hoping to get a run down in London after Edinburgh.
Out of all the books and scripts you have written, which character would you say you relate most to?
You have to relate to them all when you’re writing them even the ones that you don’t like. You just have to really get into them.
I know you are very passionate about politics, what do you think about the current political situation in Scotland?
I think that everything changes so quickly you almost don’t want to be offensive because you know it’s going to come back and bite you in the arse. We are living in a dynamic time full of change and we are losing Capitalism, the idea that we can make profit and earn wages that is all kind of collapsing in the long run, in the short run, we are creating a different kind of world and society and more of a sharing economy, that is changing the power dynamic of everything that is happening. I think in some ways what happens in governments and states etc. becomes less relevant it’s kind of what’s happening with people on the ground that is becoming more important.
Did you vote?
No, I’m not a big voter, I always register because I want the right to. I have quite exacting standards, I don’t like people who fall short of my ideals.
Do you think that the amount of bad language and shocking behaviour may have secluded you from a bigger audience?
Yeah, that’s what I keep telling myself. My god, I could have had billions by now if I had toned it down a wee bit more, but I have enough money anyway… Why should I bother? If you can be yourself and be comfortable in your own skin and make a bit of cash then I think you are far richer than someone who has to play some kind of role to make loads and loads of money.
Most people would say that you are a unique writer as you tend to write in your own dialect, Do you think this was a necessary part of your art? Would your novels have been the same without this?
I think it helped me as a novelty thing, I think overall it starts to become less of an asset again because we are kind of spoon fed culture and people want things that are more accessible but they also want change as well. I can see that people think it’s too much like hard work because their brain has been turned to mashed potato due to airport novels and they do want something a bit more challenging so they’ll look up this bastard and see what else he’s written, you know? Twenty pages of speaking in a Scottish accent and you’re fine….!
One interesting fact people might not know about you?
Something you might not know if that I love bears. I’m obsessed with bears. I want to go and see Pandas in China, I’ve been up to Canada to see Polar bears and I’ve been up to North Carolina to watch black bears. I wanna go to Alaska and China.
Do you think that the bear is your spirit animal then?
Haha, I was about to say ‘I am a bear, I am a bear’ but it has kind of sexual connotations that I should probably avoid. I do like their gruff violence but they are big squishy huggable teddies as well, like me.
‘Creatives’ will be shown between at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival between the 2nd Aug 2017 – 28th Aug 2017 at Pleasance One – Pleasance Courtyard at 4 pm. The average price for full price tickets are £14.50 and £13.50 for concessions such as students or under 18’s, the prices do vary so do make sure you check the website. This should be a unique and “incestuous dysfunction, navel-gazing narcissism, bitterness and occasional brilliance” experience. The plot revolves around the former student, pop star Sean O’Neil, as he visits a group of musicians to judge a contest, the stakes are suddenly raised to new levels when both revenge and jealousies come to the fore. This sounds like an amazing experience, so please don’t miss out! Buy your tickets now, right here!
<Story by Sophie Ogden>
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