The ever notorious Irvine Welsh returns to Edinburgh with three stage productions set in three cities he loves, including a reimagining of his infamous cult classic, Trainspotting

As a novelist, Irvine Welsh needs no introduction. Since the publication of Trainspotting in 1993, he has turned out a dozen or more bestsellers, all infused with his blackly comic take on lowlifes, pill poppers and sexual adventurers.

As a dramatist, however, he is less well known, so it’s all the more surprising to find him arriving on the Edinburgh Fringe with not one but three shows. “We’ve got Edinburgh, Chicago and London, which are three cities very close to my heart,” says Welsh about the settings of each.

Representing Edinburgh is a revival of Trainspotting Live, an immersive version of his debut novel that’s being performed in a tunnel in the old railway arches beneath the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. “They’ve taken something that was 20 years old and totally rebooted it for a new generation,” says Welsh. Flying the flag for Chicago is Creatives, a musical about a class of dysfunctional students taking part in a songwriting competition. It’s performed by a US company following try-outs at Chicago Theatre Workshop where it was devised. Then to London with Performers, a black comedy set in the swinging 60s during the making of the film Performance. The Mick Jagger/James Fox favourite was co-directed by Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell,
a cult figure with a taste for the high life.

“You’ve got London gangsters in the 60s, Edinburgh junkies in the 80s and music students in contemporary Chicago,” says Welsh. “I don’t know if there’s any overarching theme, but they are all about outsiders trying to find their place.”

In truth, Welsh’s interest in theatre is longstanding. Not only was Trainspotting adapted for the stage before the iconic film, but Welsh was working with Edinburgh’s Boilerhouse as early as 1994, before writing for the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Exit Theatre in San Francisco.

“The stuff I tend to do is quite dialogue-intensive which lends itself to the stage,” he says. “It’s a surprise to me that I’ve not done more. I like the set-up of working with people in theatre because you’re immersed in this little world and you get to work with actors very closely. Actors are amazing storytellers. They tell more stories than you do, because they’re playing different characters all the time, so you do learn a lot from them.”

Unlike his singular approach as a novelist, Welsh as a playwright is a team player. He co-wrote Creatives with fellow novelist Don De Grazia and co-wrote Performers with Dean Cavanagh. “When you collaborate with somebody, you have to know them well,” he says. “You have to have a deep bond and trust. Don and Dean are two of my best friends and it means you can say anything to each other and have that honesty. You can also look after each other when things aren’t going well.”

He and De Grazia began working on Creatives as an alternative to spending yet another summer hanging around and drinking. The set up at Chicago Theatre Workshop allowed them to try out ideas in work-in-progress performances and get feedback from audiences. “It gives it an extra layer,” he says. “We wanted not so much a musical as a pop opera, something dynamic, big and powerful, but that wouldn’t be cheesy and that would say something about where we are now, about our obsession with being creative
and the proliferation of MFA programmes and art school places.”

In contrast, he describes Performers as “Waiting for Godot meets Ray Cooney,” a show with an “almost Brian Rix music hall” quality. It’s set at that curious moment in the 1960s when, as he puts it, “artists and villains mixed for the first time.” “Artists have got this conceit that if they’d turned up in a different way, they would have been gangsters,”  he says. “And gangsters have this conceit that if they’d taken a different direction, they’d have been artists. There’s something about that outlaw sensibility that both are attracted to.”

Words: Mark Fisher

Photo: Jeffrey Delannoy

WHERE & WHEN

Creatives, Pleasance Courtyard, 2–28 August (not 15, 22), 4pm, from £8 Tel: 0131 556 6550

Performers, Assembly Rooms,  3–27 August (not 14), 4.45pm, from £10 Tel: 0131 623 3030

Trainspotting Live, EICC, 2–27 August (not 9, 16, 23), times vary, from £10 Tel: 0131 519 4150

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