Review: Filth at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Actor Jake Francis on the right

At the Fringe Festival’s 36th venue, theSpace on North Bridge, we sift into a small impromptu venue for Skin & Bone Theatre’s production of Irvine Welsh’s Filth.

The worry with a one-man show where the lead actor is tasked with portraying multiple roles is that lines between characters will become blurred.

But Jake W. Francis flawlessly transitions from Detective Inspector Bruce Robertson, one of Edinburgh’s finest, to the tapeworm chewing its way through his stomach to Ray Lennox to Bunty to Carol and many more.

With impeccable skill and execution, actor and producer Francis depicts each character with specific mannerisms, accents, and idiosyncrasies that make each unique and instantly recognisable. Welsh’s grotesque poetry is threaded throughout the performance as the rhythmic, fast-paced, alliterative dialogue, rife with Scottish idioms, rolls off Franics’ tongue.

Originally written by Irvine Welsh and adapted for the stage by Harry Gibson, Anna Marshall directs this new stripped-back, intimate production of Filth. Eleanor Bookham’s remarkable lighting design sets the tone for every transitional moment from each character change to Bruce’s increasingly frequent and disturbing lapses into psychosis.

When Francis embodies the character of Bruce’s tapeworm, the performance area is flooded with moody red light to create a sinister, uncanny feel. These moments instantaneously dictate the audience remain still and hold their breath until the scene snaps back into reality with fresh light to signify Bruce has clawed his way out of another menacing hallucination.

Filth is unique in its character development with Bruce starting out as a disgusting and amoral yet somehow lovable and hilarious antihero in a relatively light-hearted introduction. Despite the comic start, the tone quickly changes and the audience watch on as Bruce spirals uncontrollably with the mood becomes progressively darker to the point of complete bleakness.

Different from Welsh’s most famous work, Trainspotting which consists of various colourful episodes of prose which never settle for long on any one character, Filth focuses solely on Bruce’s kaleidoscopic battle with loss, rejection, failure, mental health, and addiction.

It is this in-depth focalisation of Bruce, his intensely personal narration, and no-holds-barred display of the complexity of his mind, personality, and life-shaping experiences that makes Filth such a challenging and daunting show to adapt.

Yet Marshall, Francis, and Bookham, working together with sound director Davide Vox, set designer and stage manager Jo Wright, and associate director Justin Murray create an evocative, powerful, and unflinching production.

Francis superbly portrays Bruce as a deplorable character who relishes in his colleagues’ misfortune and sabotages them to aid his gain as he tries to con his way into a promotion at work. Francis’ depiction of Bruce’s devious and calculating nature combined with his downfall, where the audience see glimpses to Bruce’s softer side and realise how desperate he is for love, affection, and purpose, highlights the intricacy of the character and Francis’ broad and diverse talents as an actor.

The production keeps within the theme of Welsh’s work with his brand of black humour, exploration into social issues and violence, illustration of Scottish culture, and, of course, complete and utter filth.

The cast and crew create a truly hilarious, multidimensional, and haunting production that reels the audience in, lulling us slowly into a place of safety and laughter before throwing us into complete harrow – a conflicting and paradoxical state that we are thrust into and sharply pulled out of continuously and without warning.

For fans of Welsh’s works and intimate, in-your-face theatre, Filth should be circled and double-underlined in your Fringe calendar this festival season.