Irvine Welsh – 'The festival has opened up the city in a lot of ways. It's an essential part of what Edinburgh is about'

This article is from 2017

Irvine Welsh – 'I feel [the festival] has opened up the city in a lot of ways. It's an essential part of what Edinburgh is about'

Joel Maisonet

Legendary Scottish author talks about his trio of shows being staged at this year's Fringe: Performers, Creatives and Trainspotting Live

Irvine Welsh is getting greedy. The Scottish author has three shows at this year's Fringe: Performers, Creatives and Trainspotting Live. 'You've got London in the 60s, Edinburgh in the 80s and Chicago in the present day,' says Welsh. 'That's probably the three cities I'm most associated with, so no one can complain.'

Performers, which makes its debut in Edinburgh, was written with Welsh's long-time collaborator, Dean Cavanagh. 'Dean and I are always doing stuff together and he's really obsessed with the story behind the film.' The pair previously wrote Babylon Heights, a debauched imagining about the actors playing Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. For this new script, they've taken inspiration from the cult 1970 Mick Jagger-starring film Performance, about a London gangster hiding out at a rock star's house. 'Performers is just a groundbreaking British film, one of the best British films of all time I think and it's not had the exposure it deserves, it's incredibly culty,' argues Welsh.

Their play focuses on the recruitment of two London gangsters for the film. 'We wanted to see if we could capture that kind of old school cockney vernacular that's been lost really now. You go to some pubs in Essex and maybe some old guys are coming out with it but t's a shame that some of these local dialects are being lost. We wanted to do something that was old school London,' says Welsh. This is helped by the casting of 'ultimate Londoners' Perry Benson and George Russo. 'I mean Dean's from Yorkshire and I'm from Scotland, so with the best will in the world, we can't always get it absolutely authentic but you've got Nick Mann directing it and Perry Benson and George Russo in these two parts, and it just gives it this extra dimension of authenticity.'

Irvine Welsh – 'I feel [the festival] has opened up the city in a lot of ways. It's an essential part of what Edinburgh is about'

Welsh and Creatives collaborator Don De Grazia / credit: Joel Maisonet
Creatives, a musical about a Chicago songwriting class is also a collaboration, this time with Don De Grazia. The piece started life as a film before Tom Mullen, who directed Trainspotting USA, came on board and they changed it from a creative writing class to a musician's workshop. They're a dysfunctional group and jealousies reach new levels when a pop star is invited back to judge a competition.

'I know it's a cliché about all plays being in constant development but this one really has to be, given the nature of it. We've also had to cut it down from 90 minutes to 75 for the festival slot,' Welsh explains. 'That's a big kind of constraint in a way but it makes it a fun snappier version.'

Creatives is set in the Chicago arts scene, and has its UK premiere in Edinburgh. 'The interesting thing that Chicago and Edinburgh have in common is that people do things there because they enjoy it. They aren't necessarily wanting to be massively successful and be discovered,' says Welsh. 'I mean Edinburgh people who want that go to London, Chicago people who want that go to New York or LA. You get people who are involved in the arts for the intrinsic love of it. There is masses of talent in Chicago, I think there is in most cities now, there's far more talented people than there are outlets for them really. I suppose the internet is just one big outlet but then it's very difficult for people to find an audience now unless they are very established and that's really what Creatives is about, it's about trying to find a voice, trying to make your voice heard above all the other voices that are clamouring to be heard and how do you do that, do you rely on talent alone or does it need some kind of sensationalism?'

Trainspotting Live, adapted by Harry Gibson from Welsh's iconic novel, returns to the Fringe following sold out runs in 2015 and 2016, and a world tour. 'It feels like a contemporary play for this generation, rather than something I wrote about 80s Edinburgh, and that's down to their ingenuity and staging. I still can't believe the energy they bring to that show.' A lot of shows at the Fringe label themselves 'immersive', Trainspotting Live very rightly so, 'they've basically colonised that word, they've set the bar for the term, ' agrees Welsh. It is also one of the few Fringe shows with a venue all of its own, a tunnel under the EICC.

Welsh's Trainspotting has a chapter titled 'The First Day of the Edinburgh Festival' in which the character of Renton memorably ends up fishing two opium suppositories out of a toilet. But Welsh likes the festival really.

'I do, I never used to. I used to be that kind of locals way, "It's too expensive, cannae get served". When I was young, we all loved coming into town from the scheme and trying to pull a girl in the festival. It's nice to be chatting to somebody in a bar and they're from the south of France or Nigeria, instead of Wester Hailes or Niddrie. I feel it has opened up the city in a lot of ways. It's an essential part of what Edinburgh is about'.

Performers, Assembly Rooms, 5–27 Aug (not 14), 4.45pm, £14–£15 (£12–£13). Previews 3 & 4 Aug, £10.
Creatives, Pleasance Courtyard, 5–28 Aug (not 15, 22), 4pm, £11–£14.50 (£9.50-£13.50). Previews 2–4 Aug, £8.
Trainspotting Live, EICC, 4–27 Aug (not 9, 16, 23), 7.45pm, £17.50–£22.50. Previews 2 & 3 Aug, £10–£15.

Trainspotting Live

Timely adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel (via a certain 1996 film too).


  • 3 stars

Performers Ltd. Making its debut in Edinburgh, Performers is a black comedy from Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh. The longtime collaborators have turned their attention to 1960s swinging London and the making of the film Performance, a violent and trippy cult film that starred Mick Jagger and James Fox. The play revolves…


STL CityWorks 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. Paul Brenner's songwriting class is a cross-section of the Chicago music scene, with all its incestuous dysfunction, navel-gazing narcissism, bitterness and…