views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Etcetera Theatre
18th August 2017


Publicity image for Filth

Photography provided by Skin & Bone

Given Harry Gibson has adapted Filth from an Irvine Welsh novel, there are certain expectations of the plot and language. Needless to say, they're all met. Protagonist Bruce Robertson (Jake Francis) isn't just a horrible person, he is the worst person. Before entering the theatre, we're met with a list of warnings - racism, sexism, homophobia, all standard - oh, and tapeworms. Tapeworms? Well, of course - after only a few moments with Bruce, that seems entirely fitting. His dialogue is vulgar, punctuated by swear words, his descriptions visceral and crude and his clothes don't seem to have seen the inside of a washing machine in quite a long time. You wouldn't want to bump into Bruce on the street, so with him being a detective, intuitively, our ick rating is immediately through the roof. This is the copper who is meant to defend us?

Without a question, Francis gives a truly stunning performance. He is exceptional, not just in acting the part of the main character, but slipping on and off the parts of dozens of others, both male and female. Francis has a mad, vindictive glint in his eye as Bruce, clattering around the stage and cruelling winding up friends and co-workers. Despite his job as a member of the polis, he plagues his friend Bladesy's wife Bunty with hoax phone calls, making sexual insinuations that unnerve and upset her. He howls in frustration at the rash that won't go away but makes no effort to clean himself or his flat. There's no let up in the disgustingness of it all or the frantic non-stop pace.

Director Anna Marshall milks Gibson's script for laughs exceedingly well - perhaps almost too well, for the audience seem to miss the poignancy of Bruce's mental decline and shriek with glee at him cross-dressing, not stopping to examine the reasons why. Sometimes a man in a dress is a man in a dress. Sometimes he's a man on the edge, who happens to be wearing a dress. It could be argued that Marshall doesn't give us a reason to pause and reflect and this is why Bruce's fragility is passed over. However, I suppose there's also the possibility that some of the narrative gets lost in translation this far away from Edinburgh, with Francis's authentically thick brogue requiring quite a lot of concentration to understand, even for someone like me, who grew up north of the border.

Whoever is operating the tech owes Francis a heartfelt apology for fluffing the sound. Nothing can halt his breathtakingly superb portrayal of Bruce, and he works around the missed cues with consummate professionalism. When a one-man show is this close to a fifth star though, it's hard to forgive the error, particularly when it happens more than once. As for the set, the design is compact and allows Francis to navigate through so many scenes without any disruption. The wood is stained with marks that look suspiciously like dried up blood but could just as equally be curry sauce - either way, they seem gross. However, there is scope to go further and try even harder to attempt to make the audience uncomfortable. It seems almost obligatory with Welsh's writing.

A stage adaptation of another of Welsh's works, Trainspotting, did rather well in London previously, with extended run after run. The public appetite is clearly here for more, and it would be criminal if Francis didn't take to the stage again soon as Bruce. Filth showcases some phenomenal acting and is such a privilege to watch.

Filth opened on 18th August and runs until 20th August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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