That’s Entertainment – Review of Performers at The Edinburgh Festival

Written by
  • font size decrease font size increase font size
  • Print
  • Email
It’s not often we at ZANI venture North of The Border in search of entertainment but we felt we had to hoof it up to Edinburgh to catch Irvine Welsh & Dean Cavanagh’s latest offering.
Their play Performers is a comedy of ill manners and misunderstanding and me and my cohort, Nick Taylor, certainly experienced a lot of farcical adventures over the weekend.

Set around the auditioning process for Donald Cammell’s 1968 seminal film Performance, Welsh & Cavanagh have decided to imaginatively eavesdrop on a small but important aspect of the making of said film. Alongside Mick Jagger and James Fox, Cammell felt the need to cast real South London criminal “chaps” in the film. Performers, the play, is set in Soho in a rundown office used for the auditions

The first thing that grabs you is the set design. It’s cool and authentic with some very clever attention to detail. It more than evokes the setting of Cammell’s endearingly cult film. As the lights dim you are treated to some ominous tribal drum beats with snippets of dialogue from the film, “We’ll be as popular as Hitler.” It sets the scene perfectly and we are straight into the story with some business about a geezer called Lionel losing his memory “up an arcade down Canvey Island”.

Perry Benson playing Alf and George Russo as Bert enter with the young secretary Florence played by Maya Gerber. It soon becomes crystal clear that Bert and Alf are really out of their depth in auditioning. They are stand up working class and proudly admit that “We wouldn’t be seen dead in a theatre.”, just one of the multitude of quotable lines from the play. Bert and Alf are two duckers and divers who scratch a living round Soho and they’re up for earning a few bob. They’re wide boys looking to scoop up some coin. Period. The concept is brilliant to anyone who’s ever seen the film, although it wouldn’t alienate those who haven’t seen it.
(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Burning Wheel - Performers @ Assembly Rooms dir Nick Moran

In the hour that follows you are treated to some blinding authenticity, wonderfully engaging performances, belly laughs and poetic quick fire dialogue that more than holds its own with the likes of Pinter and Mamet. Director Nick Moran, best known for his roles in Harry Potter and Lock Stock and directing Telstar, his superb film about Joe Meek, has fashioned a play that captures a bygone and exciting era of London life where Political Correctness had yet to infect language but at the same time, gender and sexual roles were being questioned. As a lover of London , it was staggering to see and hear how much the play captures that idiosyncratic time. Anyone familiar with ‘Mod Culture’ will instantly get the references

The casting by Nick Moran is a stroke of genius. Lewis Kirk playing the poncey Bohemian Crispin carves a great sketch of the differences between working class and upper class London in that period and Benson and Russo are a perfect pairing: alternating between banter, sentimentality, memory lapses, insinuation and threat. Perry Benson supplies some warm hearted but quick tempered interpretation whilst George Russo projects the paranoid energy of the younger Bert. Maya Gerber can only be described as a vision with a beehive and looks and sounds like she’s been time machine transported from behind the counter at a Woolworths from the late 60’s. She is Mod incarnate.

As the play progresses you realize that what you are witnessing is ultimately a sepia tinted saucy postcard from Old Compton Street circa the sixties, arguably the most creative period for working class artists since Marlowe and Shakespeare, especially in the neon saturated streets around the old West End of London. It’s a big ask to portray that time accurately and it can often be cringe worthy when it’s attempted, but Performers manages to pull it off in style
(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Burning Wheel - Performers @ Assembly Rooms dir Nick Moran

Some of the dialogue alone is worth the ticket price ... “Yeah, I’ve been drinking. Drinking makes me really thirsty - what’s all that bumfluffery got to with this picture? - It’s Lionel’s memory see. Once that’s gone ... well ... you can forget about every thin’ else once yer memory’s gone - Cos I’m never early am I! What’s the point o’ that! You turn up somewhere early n’ there’s never nobody there!” “I heard him! Nothin’ wrong with me hearin’. 20/20!”

The artist Francis Bacon pops up as reference point and so too does the writer Borges as inspiration behind the film. Performers has got “cool” written all over it and you half expect Mick Jagger to come mincing through the door dressed as his character Turner from the film. If there is any criticism it’s that perhaps Edinburgh Festival isn’t really a perfect place for it to premier. It feels and looks like a classic West End play, the Assembly Rooms are beautiful but they aren’t a patch on the old traditional London theaters. I could see it really flying at one of the Soho theaters as you’d become even more immersed in the world of the play and you could nip down The French or The Coach & Horses and then on to Gerrys for a proper drink up after the performance. While they still exist of course.

At the heart of Performers is the universal and brutal truth that ultimately everyone is out for themselves. Everyone’s a potential rat-bag capable of “having other peoples pants down”, be they pink panties or off-white Y Fronts. There’s a beautiful honesty to Performers that is sadly lacking in most of the other tediously ‘right on’, whiny and self indulgent plays we unfortunately witnessed in Edinburgh.

I couldn’t recommend Performers highly enough to fans of Joe Orton, Sexy Beast, Love Is The Devil, The Long Good Friday, Quadrophenia, Pinter’s The Homecoming and of course Performance, the film that inspired the play.

In the same spirit of the play, me and Taylor found ourselves embroiled in a mix up about a non existent party that Nick Moran told us about, a train journey surrounded by pissed up Glaswegians, lost phones, witnessing an excruciatingly boring Social Justice Warrior “Comedian” and eating a meal outside a rammed Edinburgh restaurant in the pissing down rain because we were half starving. The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment” has been whirling round my head since we arrived back at Waterloo.

Go have a butchers if you’re in Edinburgh.

Top Photographer (c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Burning Wheel - Performers @ Assembly Rooms dir Nick Moran

Tickets Available Here 

Read 4853 times Last modified on Tuesday, 08 August 2017 19:15
Rate this item
(8 votes)

About Us

ZANI was conceived in late 2008 and the fan base gradually grew by word of mouth. Key contributors came from those of the music, film and fashion industry and the voice of ZANI grew louder. So, when in 2013 investor, contributor and fan of ZANI Alan McGee* offered his support to help restyle and relaunch the site it was inevitable that traffic would increase dramatically and continues to grow. *Alan McGee co-founder of Creation Records and new label 359 Music..


What We Do

ZANI is an independent online magazine for readers interested in contemporary culture, covering Music, Film & TV, Sport, Art amongst other cultural topics. Relevant to modern times ZANI is a dynamic website and a flagship for creative movement and thinking wherever our readers live in the world.