Clubbing onstage

This article is from 2008


Chemical Romance

David Pollock talks to the performers of Borderline and Ecstasy, two shows that are trying to pull off the difficult trick of recreating clubbing onstage

As an experience that thrives on the spontaneity of the moment, and, often, some kind of altered state of consciousness, clubbing is a difficult subject to translate into drama. Since the mid-90s, the much-trumpeted drug movie or novel has largely resulted in disappointment. As brightly coloured and action packed as these works are, they just can’t do justice to the clubbing experience.

Theatre, on the other hand, has much more potential to recreate the nightclub atmosphere. The audience are actually there, sometimes in large numbers, which raises the likelihood of a more immediate and unpredictable spectacle. Two shows attempting to get it right this year are Borderline, billed as a ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for the ecstasy generation’, and an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy, specifically the final story in the collection, ‘The Undefeated’.

‘I think these settings just add the sense of heightened reality that you see in films like Trainspotting and (Justin Kerrigan’s 1999 Brit-caper) Human Traffic,’ says Borderline writer/performer Rob Benson. ‘A lot of the younger generation don’t understand or relate to theatre, but they know all about this lifestyle, and when they see it on stage and hear it in their language they think, “Theatre can be accessible to me”. It’s not about needing a degree to go and watch a play, it’s about touching that place in people’s hearts where they understand what you mean.’

Both Benson and Maddy Lewis, the director of Ecstasy, lapse into the vaguely hippyish tones of a certain generation of club-goer at various points. ‘I don’t want people to think my whole point is that going to clubs and taking ecstasy is great, even though that can be perceived in the play in certain ways,’ says Lewis. ‘But the story’s not actually about taking drugs, it’s about love. Ecstasy is a metaphor for love.’

Welsh’s original story – of a woman stifled in a loveless marriage and an ageing clubber finding love – bears this out completely. Borderline, meanwhile, attempts to examine the pitfalls of reckless hedonism, albeit in a realistic, informed, un-preachy manner.

‘The play is set in a club, but it’s about so many other things which feed into wider society,’ says Benson. ‘Taking pills might be fun, but why else do people do it? What was happening in society through the 90s that there was such an explosion in drug use?’ And then, of course, there are the less glamorous effects of drug-taking. ‘I’ve known friends who experienced depression, drug psychosis and even ended up being committed after using drugs. There’s a whole generation who are experiencing a comedown now. So, Borderline is one man’s experience of this.’

Lewis tells a similar kind of story about her lead character, Lloyd. ‘He’s a man who has to go out to enjoy himself, whose day-to-day life is meaningless,’ she says. ‘He’s not fulfilling anything within himself, although he thinks he is by taking drugs as a release, and, eventually, he starts to mature by looking for something deeper. So Ecstasy is about maturity, about people making choices which take them on different paths.’

Borderline, Underbelly, 0844 545 8252, 2–24 Aug, 9pm, £9–£10 (£8–£9). Previews 31 Jul & 1 Aug, £6; Ecstasy, Underbelly’s Baby Belly, 2–12 Aug, 1.05pm, £8.50–£9.50 (£7.50–£8.50). Previews 31 Jul & 1 Aug, £6.


  • 3 stars

This adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel immerses itself in the world of clubbing beyond the cliches, and succeeds in capturing some of the rave experience. Although not for the faint-hearted, this production should resonate with clubbers of all ages. 'Part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe'


  • 4 stars

Rob Benson's brilliant one-man piece about drug-induced psychosis toys with expectations of mental heath issues. 'Part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe'.