Theatre & Rave Culture
It is truly an exceptional moment when a variety of forces - social, economic, historic, political - converge to produce the sort of sudden systemic jerk of reorganization that marks a sea change in the ebb and flow of culture. In the following article, William C. Boles attempts to chronicle such a change in British drama.
A fascinating piece of cultural studies scholarship, "Ravers at the Bush" looks to underground club culture, rising youth disenfranchisement, the advent of ecstasy, literature, and the theatrical adaptation of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting to document a brief but scandalous chapter in the history of theatre which brought traditional audiences into direct proximity with an unruly, drug-addled "mob," and sparked a wave of plays which focus on "deviant" themes.
Ravers at the Bush: Generation Ecstasy Goes to the Theatre
by William C. Boles
Determining that seminal moment when a new theatrical movement comes to life has been one of the points of debate surrounding the challenging new plays and their talented, twenty something authors that have appeared on the British stage since the mid-1990s. Plays and authors like: Mojo (1995) by Jez Butterworth; Blasted (1995) by Sarah Kane; Closer (1997) by Patrick Marber; The Beauty Queen of Leenane (1996) by Martin McDonagh; Butterfly Kiss (1994) by Phyllis Nagy; Love and Understanding(1997) by Joe Penhall; Essex Girls (1994) by Rebecca Prichard; Shopping and Fucking (1996) by Mark Ravenhill; and Ashes and Sand (1994) by Judy Upton. Two of the most recent book-length studies of this burgeoning group of writers have identified the various moments that can be seen as heralding the start of this explosion of talent.
Both Aleks Sierz's In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today, a comprehensive look at the writers to have emerged in the mid-90s, and Graham Saunders' "Love Me or Kill Me": Sarah Kane and the Theatre of Extremes, the first full length text to focus on one of these new writers, posit that, more than likely, Sarah Kane'sBlasted will be seen as the Look Back in Anger of its era, not only because of the quality of the play and its detonation of theatrical expectations, but also because of the resulting media coverage which made an entire nation aware that something different was occurring on the British stage.
However, both authors also concede that prior to Kane's Blasted, other writers had already begun to explore the same violent and sexually explicit territory found in her work, notably Upton's Ashes and Sand, which opened in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs just before Kane's play, Prichard's Essex Girls, and Anthony Neilson's Penetrator (1993). One could also make the argument that the genesis of this new movement of writers could be traced back into the 1992 and 1993 theatre seasons, when Upton, Ravenhill, Penhall and Kane were having their first plays produced at fringe venues like the London New Play Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Finally, others have suggested that Butterworth's Mojo could be considered as the tide-turning play, since its production was the first time in forty years (since Look Back in Anger) that the Royal Court Theatre had produced a play by a first-time playwright on the Downstairs stage.
Rather than making a case for one argument over another, I want to muddy the waters and throw out another possibility. For the most part, the moments above are all associated with the plays' literary, performance, and/or media significance. However, another significant aspect to consider in the light of these new plays is the age of the playwrights themselves.
The majority of them were in their twenties and found themselves members (by the fact of their age, whether or not they were active participants) of Generation Ecstasy, the largest youth movement in the history of Britain, which began in the late 1980s and quickly rose infamously to prominence on a musical style defined in beats per minute, a little white pill embossed with a dove, and an attitude of indifference to the authority figures who diligently tried to put an end to the movement as a whole.
In one summer's time Generation Ecstasy materialized and the youthful enthusiasm of this group would influence all facets of British culture, including the British theatre. My purpose here is to take a cultural studies glance at the British theatre in the mid-1990s, specifically to proffer the moment when Generation Ecstasy and the plays of the mid-1990s intersected as one of the seminal moments of British theatre over the last decade. This moment? The London theatrical premiere of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.
"Get Right On One, Matey": The Birth and Growth of a Movement
"Our time had come and we knew this was a magical thing which had to be shared"
Danny Rampling, founder of Shoom
The rise of Generation Ecstasy and Acid House, a sub-genre of house music that first emerged out of the clubs of Chicago, but soon became the early signature music of Generation Ecstasy, can be traced to the summer of 1987 and a Spanish island called Ibiza, which boasted a rich history of hedonism and for the past few decades had been a popular home away from home for British tourists. A small group of highly experienced London club goers, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling, Johnny Walker (all three djs) and Nicky Holloway (the owner of a club), were invited to Ibiza by two other London clubbers, Trevor Fung and Ian St. Paul. The fact that these men were all well versed in the London club scene meant that, according to Andy Crysell,
they came to the island with firm ideas of what clubbing was about. It was about dressing seriously, sticking to one style of music and being unflinchingly cool. Or, as Fung, who'd long felt dismay for the state of things back in London, puts it, "It was about playing to a crowd who refused to listen to lively music, always dressed in boring black and always gave off a bad attitude."
They were happy to discover that the club scene on Ibiza was far removed from the style conscious, anti-dancing contingent controlling the London club spaces at that time.
Almost all the visitors flocked to San Antonio, which was essentially a perfect representation of Britain in the Mediterranean, where full English breakfasts were readily available as well as a pint at the local pub. However, a few miles away was Ibiza Town, where the true heart and spirit of Ibiza flourished. Ibiza town beckoned to these six London clubbers with its nightclubs that closed at sunrise, innovative djs, an inexpensive cost of living and the easy accessibility of Ecstasy. Fung and St. Paul took their friends to the Ibiza town club Amnesia. As Crysell writes, Amnesia was
open to the countless stars above, with resident DJ Alfredo playing an astonishing mix of music to almost as many stars on the dance floor . . . Amid the celebrities were fashionable Italians and French, wayward members of European aristocracy, seasoned beatniks and Ibiza's most eccentric residents-a Technicolor mix of transvestites, poets, painters and professional extroverts.
Helping to enhance their clubbing experience at Amnesia was a drug called Ecstasy. Johnny Walker remarked after his first taking of E: "When we came up on the E we didn't know what the hell was going on-only that we felt fantastic, everything looked sparkly and colourful, and we were up for a great night out" (Crysell 29). Ecstasy would soon become one of the crucial components of club culture's success.
The drug, chemically known as 3, 4 Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), was first invented in the early part of the twentieth century by Merck, a German pharmaceutical company, hoping to invent an appetite suppressant. The drug never really caught on and disappeared from view until the 1960s when Dr. Alexander Shulgin of Dow Chemicals, an American company, used the drug in experiments. Harry Shapiro in Waiting for the Man: The Story of Drugs and Popular Music writes: "Shulgin always tried out his experiments on himself and discovered that MDMA had a special quality in that it made the user feel very positive or `empathetic' towards other people". In The Book of E: All About Ecstasy by Push and Mireille Silcott, they note:
MDMA enhances physical sensations. The sense of touch is heightened, food may smell and taste different to normal, and many people say that music sounds better. There's more awareness of the moment and more contentment with whatever that moment might be. People feel positive about both themselves and the wider world around them . . . Inhibitions are loosened, egos are softened and people experience a close emotional bond with others. . . . Everyday social defences are weakened and communicating with strangers is no longer taboo.
In the 1970s, marriage therapists prescribed it for their troubled clients since the drug "helped each partner see the other's point of view and become less hostile" (Push and Silcott 176). Eventually, the drug made it out of the hands of the researchers and doctors and into the hands of the general public. In the States it became the drug of choice for young middle class white-collar workers. Quickly thereafter the drug made its way over to Europe and in the early 80s in Britain it was a designer drug only used by wealthy clubbers and pop stars, like Boy George and George Michael.
Why did the drug become the symbol of a whole movement? Two reasons: one political, the other social. Richard Davenport-Hines in The Pursuit of Oblivion notes that Thatcher's monetarist governmental policy was, in many parts, to blame for the growing reliance on drugs in the 1980s, especially heroin (the drug of choice inTrainspotting). Crucial to the drug culture's rise was
the dismantling of Britain's traditional heavy industrial base begun by the 1981 monetarist budget. Unemployment and an enveloping miasma of poverty and decay settled over many communities. Drugs became part of the hidden injuries of class discrimination. The link between heroin traffic and hopeless social deprivation became increasingly evidentduring the 1980s.
However, the lower and working classes were not the only ones to be economically impacted and emotionally embattled by Thatcher's policies. According to Shapiro,
for the first time middle class professionals were experiencing the same kind of employment uncertainties as those experienced by the working classes. There was a sense of alienation, lack of community, looking after "number one"-a sea of individuals fighting for their own survival and fearful of what the future might hold. Young people entering their mid-teens at the turn of the decade were deeply cynical about the political process and found little solace in their own communities.
While certainly a segment of the British population profited through the monetarist policies of Thatcher's government("loadsamoney" became a common catch phrase for workers in the City), Thatcher's governing also bred a growing level of discomfort, uncertainty, discontent and a general malaise about the general population's role in this changing face of Britain. In effect, Thatcher's government worked against the nature of its population.
Michel Foucault in his essay on "Governmentality" addresses the emergence of "the art of government" charting the change from a sovereign leadership to one that focuses on the welfare of the population. Foucault notes that "in the art of government the task is to establish a continuity, in both an upward and downward" trajectory of influence (206). While the upward influence refers to the character development of potential leaders to be proper governing bodies, the downward continuity relates to the relationship and influences between the government and its population. Foucault writes that "when a state is well run, the head of the family will know how to look after his family, his goods, and his patrimony, which means that individuals will, in turn, behave as they should" .
In essence, the art of governmentality involves "a state of affairs where all the subjects without exceptions obey the laws, accomplish the tasks expected of them, practice the trade to which they are assigned, and respect the established order". In order to do so, though, the government must provide a proper model for its constituents. However, it became clear in the late 1980s (if it was not already), when Britain's largest youth subculture burst upon the scene, that Thatcher's government was not maintaining Foucault's "downward continuity" across the entire population, but instead only for a limited portion of the population.
In response Generation Ecstasy did not behave as it should. In fact, Matthew Collin notes: "As drug use became normalized, criminality was democratized. What Irvine Welsh calls the 'chemical generation' was also a generation of outlaws". Collin provides an astute summation of the cultural upheaval in terms of its intentionality of dis" respecting the established order," but ironically Generation Ecstasy did so by subsuming the same values espoused by Thatcher's government in order to tweak them to create their own value system.
Ecstasy culture seemed to ghost the Thatcher narrative-echoing its ethos of choice and the market freedom, yet expressing desires for a collective experience that Thatcher rejected and consumerism could not provide. Thatcherite Conservatism offered a blueprint from achievement with a Victorian morality built in; Ecstasy culture ran with the blueprint but inverted the morality, firing a vibrant black economy not only in illegal drugs but cash-in-hand deals for all manner of ancillary services, from DJ careers to home-produced records, creating an unprecedented number of cultural artifacts.
However, politics were not the only dynamic at play in the rise of Ecstasy, the stultifying social framework of British reserve also played a significant factor. Simon Reynolds in Generation Ecstasy notes: "Ecstasy was a miracle cure for the English disease of emotional constipation, reserve, inhibition" (65). While Ecstasy softened the stereotypical British reserve, it also removed the haughtiness of the British club scene of the mid-1980s, where fashion was more important than dancing and socializing. Paul Belford in High Society: The Real Voices of Club Culture describes the impact of Ecstasy on personal relations:
It is easier to make friends when you are on an E. But the friendships themselves are not any the less for having been made on E and can be just as lasting. It's just that the barrier of distrust and reserve is removed so you can be open and trusting with other people. That is why clubbing can be such an empowering experience: you go out and lay yourself wide open to people in a way you can't do in your normal life, and nothing bad comes of it. Your trust is not abused and you take that away with you.
The drug provided a panacea to the economic, political and social triumverate plaguing the youth of Britain in the late 1980s, allowing them to escape into a communal world of lights, music, hugs and dance. And it is that sense of community that is a key component of Generation Ecstasy. According to Shapiro, "we find a generation, not only looking for alternatives to reality, for altered states of consciousness, (like its predecessor in the sixties) but also in search of `community', for almost tribal identification and a sense of belonging". That sense of community has been a characteristic championed by the Acid House movement, and one of the best examples of this new fostering British community could be found on the football terraces around the country.
Previously, warring football hooligans would do battle before and after matches. However, with the arrival of Ecstasy these same embattled groups found themselves at the same raves, where they would embrace and dance the night away before peacefully going to the match later that day. Simon Reynolds notes that this détente between football fans is a perfect example of the political and social ills of Britain both being solved by the taking of Ecstasy: "In the eighties, with mass unemployment and Thatcher's defeat of the unions, the soccer match and the warehouse party offered rare opportunities for the working class to experience a sense of collective identity, to belong to a `we' rather than an atomized impotent 'I'".
Not wanting the Ibiza party to end, upon their return to London Oakenfold, Rampling, Walker, and Holloway rekindled the heat of the Spanish summer in the drab, cold, wet London autumn by having club sessions after the imposed two a.m. club closing time. Collin notes:
They had returned with functional Euro-fashion of the Ibiza summer-shorts, T-shirts, Converse baseball boots and bandannas-and embellished it with kindergarten accessories, the fervent atmosphere amplifying the sartorial experimentation. There was a palpable sense of liberation in throwing off designer clothes and donning a carefree T-shirt and jeans; it was a statement that the holiday wasn't over yet, that there would be no return to reality.
Fung and Oakenfold opened Spectrum, and every Monday with Walker as a dj, they recaptured the energy of those summer days in Spain. Oakenfold explained the change such a club ushered into the London club scene: "London clubs had always been about people drinking, trying to chat up girls, looking good but not dancing. All of a sudden we completely changed that-you'd come down and you'd dance for six hours" (Collin 59). One attendee's remarks about Spectrum capture the surprise and uncertainty about this new club experience. "Everyone looked like they were from Mars. Drenched in sweat, wearing baggy shit, and all just looking at the DJ with their arms in the air, like it was some really weird religious ceremony" (Collin 59). Danny Rampling opened Shoom, one of the most diligently, door controlled rave clubs, which Crysell described as "the famed seething pit of jubilant hysteria and flouro colours" (Crysell 30).
By the summer of 1988 (which came to be known as the second summer of love) the size of the late night raves had grown exponentially (a friend tells a friend who then tells a friend) as more and more people each weekend wanted to dance the night away at the now trendy clubs, like Shoom and Spectrum and their imitators. The need for more clubs to answer the demand became apparent that summer and the true nature of its mainstream appeal became clear when Nicky Holloway opened Sin at Astoria. In less than a year the rave scene had made it from the shores of Ibiza to the West End of London.
Not surprisingly, the small, dedicated initial partiers found themselves overwhelmed by the new devotees of this hedonistic lifestyle. The rave scene with its sweaty, all-consuming, Ecstasy driven communal rush quickly ballooned into an ideal mode of life for some and a popular weekend event for thousands of others. By the summer of 1989, pressure from the size of the raves, the increased presence of London gangs and drug dealers wanting to take a chunk out of the promoters' profits, and pressure from the London constabulary helped convince promoters to abandon the empty city warehouses for the country side.
These huge unlicensed, outdoor gatherings provoked complaints and captured the attention of the tabloids. In response, the police eventually created a special unit aimed at combating the rave scene and its multitudes of devotees. Stories of the chess games between rave promoters and the police have become mythic, with each plotting to out manoeuvre the other.
On the promoters' side they aimed to get as many ravers onto the grounds so that they could achieve a critical mass and therefore making it impossible for the police to stop the party. Meanwhile, the police (monitoring pirate radio stations and sometimes announcing fictitious raves on the radio) threw up roadblocks, hoping to halt the flow and send the ravers home. In some cases, this technique failed as youths bent on partying would spontaneously create their own rave at the roadblock, along the motorway or at one of the rest stops.
This game of chess eventually culminated in one of largest raves, which occurred at Castlemorton in 1992, attended by 25,000 to 40,000. In response the government passed the Criminal Justice Act of 1994, which outlawed these large outdoor raves.
While the act did halt the countryside raves as well as the weekend games of chess between organizers and police, the government regulations did not hinder the growth of club culture. Instead, the law forced the movement to ascend from its underground status to a more mainstream and widespread experience. The parties moved back to London and its various clubs, as it was still legal to dance the night away in London clubs.
Social and cultural studies critics have noted that even though this wide-ranging group of youths, comprised across economic, ethnic, religious and football boundaries, has surprisingly not been involved in any major political initiatives, unlike previous youth movements, it still has been one of the most influential and powerful youth movements in the history of Britain because of its diverse influences across all the various realms of British social, cultural and economic life. Some examples:
They redefined the nature of the club scene of the 1980s, in terms of fashion, music and alcohol consumption;
They made use of rapidly developing communication technology to outwit the authorities looking to close down raves;
They impacted the shape and definition of music;
They influenced Tony Blair's political campaign;
They forced the police to rethink their methods of crowd control;
They made dance a social event accessible to the masses;
They inspired specialty record stores to open;
They forced British beer manufacturers to rethink their marketing techniques and products;
They created a new niche of clubbing packages for travel agencies;
They influenced underground as well as mainstream literature.
While a great deal has been documented about Generation Ecstasy's influence over the preceding list, the least amount of work has been done examining Generation Ecstasy's influence on the literature of Britain, and for the most part the focus has been on novels like Alex Garland's The Beach (1997), Alan Warner's Morvern Callar (1997), and Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (1993). And it is with Irvine Welsh and Trainspotting where we find the interlocking moment between Generation Ecstasy and the British Theatre, as this cult novel made the transition to a stage play.
The Trainspotting Phenomenon
"'We've got to get the kids in,' was the patronizing mantra that used to ring around theatreland. `We've got to get them out of the clubs and the raves and the flicks and the internet caf‚s and get them back in the theatre. Harness all that energy and creativity.' We generally agreed until the first night of Trainspotting." Dominick Droomgoole
Upon its publication in 1993 Trainspotting became the book of choice for this new generation of youth. According to Collin, "Trainspotting was the cult text of the nineties not just because of Welsh's literary talent, but because it had struck a deep chord with anyone immersed in drug culture . . . . Welsh was more than a `rave author', but his surreal often grim yet conversely life-affirming prose expertly delineated the hedonist's headspace" (28). Told, for the most part, through numerous first person narratives, but primarily through the voice of some time junkie, some time gyro con man, and full-time cynic Mark Renton, Welsh's novel depicts the underbelly of Edinburgh in the 1980s. It focuses primarily on a group of heroin addicts, their friends and families as they struggle with life, work, family, death, AIDS, Iggy Pop, romance, overdoses, the big score, raves, football, Sean Connery, the Festival, the filthiest toilet in Scotland, and, always, their varied addictions.
The success of Welsh's novel startled many. Why? Literarily, the novel is well crafted, featuring a powerful use of dialect and a compelling ability to capture the characters' struggles. But as Collin notes, the novel spoke to a wide swath of members of myriad drug and youth cultures as it expressed a social, political and economic view parallel to their own, and the force driving the success of the book (despite its literary merits) was its audience.
Simon Reynolds in his Village Voiceprofile of Welsh notes: "Research by his publishers has shown that a hefty proportion of Welsh's audience doesn't read any fiction at all, apart from books by himself and kindred spirits like Morvern Callar author Alan Warner" (72). His book acquired the reputation as being for those people who did not read and this aspect would be key to the successful interconnection between Generation Ecstasy and British theatre of the 90s. It only made sense that when the novel was adapted into a play by Harry Gibson, Trainspotting would appeal to those punters who had previously not gone to plays, namely those kids that Droomgoole, Stephen Daldry at the Royal Court Theatre and Richard Eyre at the Royal National Theatre were all interested in courting into their spaces.
Welsh wrote for a new, untapped audience, offering up literary characters not before depicted with such graphic detail, psychological insight, and compelling literary style. As Welsh remarked in terms of the appeal of his writing: "I think that a lot of people are sick of the kind of representations of the world that we live in as a kind of bland Four Weddings and a Funeral sort of place-they want something that says a wee bit more about the society we actually live in and a wee bit more about the different cultures within that society that tend to be ignored" (Macdonald 18). Lucy Hughes-Hallett's book review in The Sunday Times noted that aspect of the novel when she noted that Trainspotting "gives voice to the silent, swaying figure at the back of the late-night bus, the one nobody wants to sit next to" (6:8).
The figure at the back of the bus that we diligently avoid, refusing to make eye contact with would become a major component in the plays following shortly after the novel's debut because young British playwrights were also interested in these previously ignored individuals. Mark Ravenhill, author of Shopping and Fucking, captures this same motif in describing his plays: "You only have to wait for a bus in Camden for ten minutes to come across the people I'm writing about in the play.
What surprises me is Londoners who claim to have no knowledge of this kind of life" ("Curtains Up" 21). Joe Penhall confronted this same issue in his early play, Some Voices, which dealt with the difficulties two schizophrenics face in Shepherd's Bush. In his introduction to his collected plays, he explains why he chose this topic:
I'd been living in Shepherd's Bush . . . The place was full of former mental patients and Irish and Kiwis and Croatians and drunks and drifters in amongst the media types. I'd learnt from a government white paper that the incidence of mental illness and suicide amongst the Irish in London was higher than for any other community in Britain. I wasn't surprised. Anybody who spends time in a city doing anything other than going to work and coming home understands the soullessness of city life. I'd had years on the dole and doing dead-end jobs and then a year writing journalism about people on the dole and in dead-end jobs. I felt strongly that newspaper articles weren't enough to convey the true misery and loneliness of schizophrenia, unemployment, redundancy, alchoholism, domestic violence and everything else that was going on around me. (ix-x)
Unlike Synge who traveled to the Aran Islands to find something to write about, Welsh and the young playwrights of the 90s merely had to look outside their flats to find literary inspiration from the ignored underbelly of discontent and misery, which had grown steadily during Margaret Thatcher and her conservative government's long reign.
Similar to John Osborne's Jimmy Porter of Look Back in Anger (1956), another seminal character and text capturing the essence of a powerful and influential youth movement, Welsh's characters provided the same truculent urgency, powerful manner of linguistic and stylistic bravado, and theatrically spontaneous voice for lower class British youths, who had for the most part evaporated from the British stage in the 1980s and early 1990s.
However, Welsh's characters distance themselves from the familiar lower class political discontents in the leftist plays of Osborne and other similar minded writers. While Jimmy Porter ranted about church bells, the fading imperial nature of Britain and pompous Sunday editorials, Welsh's characters rants are far more personal, far more primal, and far more violently etched in the primordial ooze of a base existence. And equally different are the means of escape that each employs. Jimmy and Allison use their linguistic foreplay game of bears and squirrels to escape from the socially and emotionally violent discord of their class differences. At the end of the play Jimmy says to Allison:
We'll be together in our bear's cave, and our squirrel's drey, and we'll live on honey, and nuts . . . And we'll sing songs about ourselves-about warm trees and snug caves, and lying in the sun. And you'll keep those big eyes on my fur, and help me keep my claws in order, because I'm a bit of a soppy, scruffy sort of bear. And I'll see that you keep that sleek, busy tail glistening as it should, because you're a very beautiful squirrel, but you're none too bright either, so we've got to be careful. (Osborne 96)
In Trainspotting heroin and its powerful corporeal and mental effects replace their tired game. As Alison says, after an injection of heroin from Sick Boy: "That beats any meat injection. That beats any fuckin cock in the world!" (Welsh 26). In the world of Osborne's play Alison and Jimmy, despite all their troubles, still are able to rely on their own physical embrace as a form of overcoming (albeit briefly) all their woes.
They have one another. However, in Trainspotting the couple has now been reduced to one, represented by the self-embrace of Alison as she slumps to the floor, relishing the internal, singular pleasure that the drug provides, foregrounding the high of the drug before everything else including the primal, natural pleasure of sexual intercourse, which is the only place where Allison and Jimmy are equal.
Harry Gibson, who adapted and directed the stage version of Trainspotting, perfectly captured the essence of Welsh's novel. And his adaptation from its opening moments announces that a new type of drama is in the works. The play opens with a theatrical explosion not only from the mouth of Renton with his profane and graphically descriptive language but also from his sleeping body which during the night has released all of its bilious contents onto his girlfriend's duvet and bed.
Fuck! . . . Ah woke up in a strange bed, in a strange room, covered in ma own mess. Ah hud pished the bed. Ah hud puked up in the bed. Ah shat masel in the bed. Ah slide outay bed. Ah pick up the duvet. Ah look down. The bed is a total fucking mess. The wee pink carnations on a white background're drowning in toxic brown pollution. I huv tae gather itup in the bottom sheet like chips in a paper and then wrap it up in the duvet cover, sortay crush it intae a ball, making sure thir's nae leakage, ken, and stow it uner the bed. (Welsh 15)
Our soiled hero tries to spirit the fecal, vomit and urine stained sheets out of the house, but his girlfriend's mother won't let him. She insists on washing them for him, to which he protests greatly.
Mrs Houston steals across the flair taewards us n makes a grab fir ma bundle. She widnae be denied. Ah pull it tae me, tae my chest; but Mrs Houston is fast as fuck an deceptively strong. . . . The sheets flew up in the air-n a pungent shower ay shite, alcoholic sick n vile pish splashed oot across the scene. (16)
On the 29th of March 1995 Trainspotting made its London stage debut (having previously played at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre and Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre) at the Bush Theatre. On that night the play belched forth its "pungent shower ay shite, alcholic sick n vile pish splash[ing] oot" and the "kids" that Dromgoole, Daldry and other practitioners so actively sought arrived in abundance, lapping up every minute of the stage performance of the novel which had completely captured the imagination and spirit of the disaffected British youth, who had grown up under Thatcher.
In The Full Room, Dominic Dromgoole describes the night the kids arrived and their appearance in the raised tier seats of the Bush theatre made the theatre practitioners think twice about wanting these kids ever to return to their houses.
They were a fucking nightmare. They smoked cigarettes, joints, even heroin (something of a theatrical first that), they talked amongst themselves, picked fights, spilt drinks and created whatever mayhem they could. About three-quarters of the way through the first half, an old theatre nightmare was made manifest, when first one, then another two, then four, then eventually about forty, simply got up and walked out, passing right across the stage. The depression this induced was quickly alleviated when they all en masse walked back in. They'd just nipped out for a piss.
By the interval, the person on front of house looked like a Polish calvary officer a week into the Second World War. By the end, a group of us were in earnest discussion: `The kids, how can we get them out? How can we get them back into the clubs, raves, etc. Where are all those nice people in sweaters?' Needless to say, no one could be kept out, and the show was a storm wherever it went, in Scotland, at the Bush, on tour, even in the West End.
Streaming into theatres around the country came the raucous, youthful, rave going, E taking, techno dancing kids. Harry Gibson remarked: "We were told by lots of regional theatres that they'd never been so full for years" (qtd. in Reisz 61). Most significant though is the play's transfer to the West End. The appearance and decorum of this previously unseen brood in the lobbies and stalls of the hallowed West End made a powerful and, for some, uncomfortable statement about the changing composition and philosophy of London audiences as well as the writers for the stage.
Harry Gibson's remark to Andy Lavender etched out part of the rebellious attitude of these new theatre patrons: "The thought of doing [Trainspotting] in the West End gives you a sense of triumph and a sense of subversion. . . It's kind of a buzz to know you're seeing this filthy piece of work in the home of The Mousetrap, or was, until it moved" (35). In effect, the staid, comported, respectable, West End British theatre, which in the 1980s and the early 1990s had been defined, for the most part, by the easy comedies of Alan Ayckbourn, the multi-layered plays of Tom Stoppard, directors making their names on revivals, and highly-profitable and exportable British musical, was now under attack.
<19> The "kids," unlike the usual middle-aged, upper to middle class audience, vocally invested in the action on stage, creating an atmosphere akin to a panto for the twentysomething age group. Carole Woddis in the Glasgow Herald wrote that the audience at the Glasgow premiere "loved the incipient anarchy of it, they groaned with the desperate degradation of it, and they thrilled to the dramatic urgency of it" (qtd. in Reisz 61). Their challenge to theatrical decorum was not limited to their vocal participation.
Michael Billington's review in The Guardian of the play's West End transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre made reference to the audience as being "nattily clad" (2:10). Amidst the kids and the theatre critics were typical British theater goers who did not quite know what to make of the whole Trainspotting experience. The most apt representation of their reaction can be found in Benedict Nightingale's review of the production that played at Whitehall Theatre.
"Er, I suppose the second half is much like the first?" a tweedy old gentleman asked me in the interval. "We're wondering if it's really aimed at our age group."
He was right on both counts, and left with his wife 20 minutes later, no doubt cursing a play- title deceptively reminiscent of happy boyhood days recording the numbers of puffers at King's Cross. (17)
Truly, the kids that the theatre directors had wanted to attract so badly had arrived and in turn everyone noticed. No more could it be business as usual.
"This is us": Generation Ecstasy and the Drama of the 90s
As the audience was shuffling out of the Bush theatre one night [after seeing Samuel Adamson's Clock and Whistles], . . . I fell in behind Michael Codron, the venerated and venerable West End producer. He turned to his friend: `I liked that very much,' he said. Then, after a pause, he whispered, `Was it any good?' `Yes. Yes, it was . . . very good,' his friend replied. Michael looked happy, `Was it? Oh good, I am glad.' I was delighted, not by the approval, nor by the insecurity, but by the suggestion that no one knew the rules anymore.-Dominic Droomgoole
Reading reviews of Trainspotting, as well as similar plays like Adamson's Clocks and Whistles (1996), Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking, Upton's Ashes and Sand, Prichard's Essex Girls, McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Butterworth's Mojo, and many others, one cannot help but notice that Benedict, Billington and their middle-aged contemporaries were excited about the renaissance of new theatrical voices, releasing the theatre from its somnolent, catatonic slumber. However, they were a tad bit wary of not only the youthful, raucous audience invading the West End in search of the theatricalization of their own stories, experiences and fears but also the violent, graphic sexuality, and profane subject matter and life philosophies emerging on the stages.
In his review of Trainspotting Billington admitted to his own "moral queasiness" with the play (2:10). Never the less these playwrights, despite their vehement protests against being classified together, share a similar mantra, identified by Harry Gibson when he described the appeal of Trainspotting: "It's written from within the culture, where everybody's saying: This is us, listen to us" (Lavender 35). Gibson's description of these emerging voices, needing and wanting to be heard and have their own stories told and explained fostered the success of Welsh's Trainspotting.
While it brought the audience in originally, new writers like Ravenhill, Penhall, Upton, Marber, Kane and others kept them coming back to the stage to see snapshots of life in Britain in the 90s. Even though Peter Morris was remarking on the power of Kane's writing, his comment can be applied to her contemporaries as well. "The one thing Sarah Kane did accomplish was to convince unhappy twenty-year-olds that theatre wasn't as much a sham and a spectacle as everything else the world offers them" (Morris 151). Like the drug fueled, music driven raves, the new theatre of the mid-1990s provided Generation Ecstasy with an alternative outlet from their daily struggles.
No doubt, the Bush theatre succeeded in attracting the Generation Ecstasy kids, but as we have seen not everyone was happy with their taking a seat in the theatre. Dromgoole's most revealing "they were a fucking nightmare," Billington's tchetchy "nattily clad," the tweedy old gentleman's abashed departure, and the entire Bush Theatre's staff overwhelming desire "to get them out" suggests the shock and dismay over the audience members they had all so achingly desired to capture. And yet, when their reactions are put in context with the reactions of "regular" Britains of the English countryside who found themselves surrounded by the kids of Generation Ecstasy as they took their smiley face, E trip show from the clubs and abandoned warehouses of London on the road, we find that not much has changed from the late-1980s and the mid-1990s.
Tony Colston-Hayter, one of the most public figures of the Acid House revolution, having handcuffed himself to a talk show host during an interview, planned the first foray into the countryside. Tired of police and gang interference, he hired busses and moved his patrons to an equestrian center near his home. Sheryl Garratt described the effect of his countryside rave had on the movement as a whole:
At the peak of the night, the lights went off, the place filled with dry ice and DJ Steve Proctor played the opening bars of Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra ... As the music built towards a climax, a green laser cut across the smoke-filled room, and all the DJ could see was disembodied hands reaching towards it through the mist, like an entity from John Carpenter's The Fog. All of the London club promoters who had advised Colston- Hayter not to waste his money were there, awestruck. The agenda had changed: this was no longer about club nights, one-off parties. It was events, about spectacle. (144-5)
While the Colston-Hayter gathering changed the rules of the rave scene, just as these new playwrights have done on the British stage, both dramatically upping the ante, the morning after also had an important impact as the denizens of the countryside came face to face with this previously only urban-based youth movement. Charlie Colston-Hayter, his sister, said:
It was beautiful sunshine, birds singing, dew on everything and it was sparkling and wonderful, a new day. And all of a sudden this tractor came round the corner. This bloke had probably driven that tractor round that corner every day for forty- five years, and now he's hit by bedlam. Boys and girls in tie-dye, dancing with flowers in their hair. You should have seen his face. Can you imagine what he'd go back and say to his wife? (Garratt 145)
A similar example comes from Simon of London who describes his experience of going to a Sunrise rave in June of 1989. His description of the stunned villagers finding their small hamlet overrun by British youths seeking that evening's designated rave site perfectly parallels the same overwhelming feeling that Dromgoole and others experienced in the face of such a group of youths pouring into their theatres.
Eventually, we got to the turn-off and found ourselves suddenly in a village side-road. The gardens of the houses came right down to the road, and the road was bumper to bumper with cars. There were people standing in their gardens in their pyjamas and looking out of their windows in their dressing-gowns, wondering what the hell was going on: the sleepy village road suddenly had cars three abreast, all packed with sweaty, gurning kids with their music pumping. Nothing could have come the other way even if it had wanted to. (Harrison 141)
Later, Simon describes the reaction of the hamlet's overwhelmed constabulatory force come to break up the thousands of ravers.
And there, silhouetted in the door, were two tiny figures. And even against the increasing daylight we could make out that they were uniformed coppers, and that each of them was holding a push bike! . . . And the younger one had his helmet under his arm, and he wandered in looking totally gobsmacked-they had obviously never seen anything like it in their whole careers of policing a tiny, sleepy, suburban village. (141- 2)
Tiny hamlets and police forces throughout Britain experienced the same shock of the influx of this youthful band. And yet, Simon's gleeful description of the townsfolk and two police officers so shocked by the expansive infiltration of their town by thousands of youths during the summer of 1989 provides a perfect closing metaphor for the reaction of audience members (paralleled by the town folk) and theatre practitioners and reviewers (the constabulary and others) to the influx of similar minded audiences descending on the Bush, Royal Court and other theatres in London in the mid-90s.
* * *
So where does this leave us now in 2003? Are the youthful punters still flocking to the London theatres? Has this new youthful presence of playwrights continued to dominate the theatrical scene in London? The answer to both questions is no. In September 2002 at the University of the West of England, Bristol Aleks Sierz, who named and defined the "In-Yer-Face" theatre movement, announced to a group of academics attending the "In-Yer-Face"? British Drama in the 1990s conference that "In-Yer-Face" theatre was now officially defunct.
By the end of the 1990s many of the young writers so bent on changing the system ultimately became part of the system (Mark Ravenhill, Joe Penhall) or opted out of the system entirely (Sarah Kane, Phyllis Nagy, Rebecca Prichard). With the absence of these voices, the young audience had no reason to return to the London theatres. Even stage adaptations of Irvine Welsh's later novels never found the same critical or popular success as the novel or stage version of Trainspotting, which may be one reason why his most recent book Porno (2002) drops back in on Renton and the gang.
And yet, the few years of intersection between Generation Ecstasy and the London theatre are worth highlighting. Just as Generation Ecstasy broke all the rules and redefined the club scene of the 1980s from its infatuation with style and glamour to baggy, adolescent like clothing (why the better to dance and sweat in, my dear) and uninhibited dancing, the young playwrights of the mid-1990s moved the theatre from its light, frothy, commercial, revival based focus, turning it more toward the baser elements of existence and survival during the Thatcher and post-Thatcher years. Similarly, these young playwrights and their audiences no longer followed the established rules set down for theatrical conventions. Aleks Reisz suggests that: "Picking among the tattered remains of modernism, and encouraged by post-modernism's notion that `anything goes,' theatre shook off the style police and began to explore a new-found freedom" (36). That attitude of "anything goes" also perfectly fits the spirit of Generation Ecstasy.
It is important then to conclude by returning to Dromgoole and the other artistic directors' interest in getting the "kids" into the theatre. In regard to the plays of the mid-90s and after, the "kids" can be classified in two ways: the audience and the playwrights themselves. The main critical and academic focus on this new emergence of theatrical voices has been and will continue to be on the latter group and for understandable reasons. However, we must not forget to pay attention to the other kids who were also crucial to the theatrical resurgence in Britain. No doubt, in looking back at the theatre in the 1990s Trainspotting will be, at most, probably a footnote, when compared with the other plays of the decade.
After all, Ella Wildridge, writing in Theatre in a Cool Climate, aptly remarks, ""When young people ventured into theatres to see Trainspotting they went in search of the latest thing. Cool" (Wildridge 161). And while that is essentially true, her identification of the play's "coolness" is what makes it so culturally important in raising the awareness of the "kids" to the British theatre and what was transpiring there. With Trainspotting and similar themed plays in the ensuing years, the theatre audience made an important, albeit brief, shift as Generation Ecstasy found a similar minded attitude and place in the stalls of London's theatres.
Billington, Michael. Review of Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh, adapt. by Harry Gibson, The Guardian 18 Dec. 1995: 2:10.
Collin, Matthew. Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House. 2nd ed. London: Serpent's Tail, 1998.
Crysell, Andy. "Ibiza: The Discovery." Ibiza: Inspired Images from the Island of Dance. Ed. Ben Turner. London: Ebury Press, 1999. 26-49.
"Curtains Up," Midweek, 24-27 Feb 1997: 21.
Davenport-Hines, Richard. The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Social History of Drugs. London: Phoenix, 2002.
Dromgoole, Dominic. The Full Room: An A-Z of Contemporary Playwriting. London: Methuen, 2000.
Foucault, Michel. "Governmentality." Power. Trans. Robert Hurley and others. Ed. James D. Faubion. New York: New Press, 2000. 201-222.
Garratt, Sheryl. Adventures in Wonderland: A Decade of Club Culture. London: Headline, 1998.
Harrison, Melissa, ed. High Society: The Real Voices of Club Culture. London: Piatkus, 1998.
Hughes-Hallett, Lucy. Review of Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh. The Times 15 Aug. 1993: 6:8.
Lavender, Andy. "West End Gets Smack in the Face." The Times 13 Dec. 1995: 35.
MacDonald, Kevin. "Postcards from the Edge." Independent on Sunday 28 Jan. 1996: Sunday Review 18.
Morris, Peter. "Brand of Kane." Arete 4 (Winter 2000): 143- 52.
Nightingale, Benedict. Review of Trainspotting, by Irvine Welsh, adapt. by Harry Gibson, The Times 16 March 1996: 17.
Penhall, Joe. Preface. Plays: One. London: Methuen, 1998: ix-xv.
Push and Mireille Silcott. The Book of E: All About Ecstasy. London: Omnibus Press, 2000.
Osborne, John. Look Back in Anger. New York: Penguin, 1957.
Reisz, Aleks. In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today. London: Faber and Faber, 2001.
Reynolds, Simon. "Filthy Mind." The Village Voice 15 Sept. 1998: 72.
---. Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture. New York: Routledge, 1998.
Shapiro, Harry. Waiting for the Man: The Story of Drugs and Popular Music. 3rd ed. London: Helter Skelter, 1999.
Welsh, Irvine. Trainspotting and Headstate. London: Minerva, 1996.
Wildridge, Ella. "New Plays-We Need Them." Theatre in a Cool Climate. Eds. Vera Gottlieb and Colin Chambers. Oxford: Amber Lane, 1999. 159-168.
 A number of book length studies, besides the ones cited below, dissect the varying components of this youth movement, including Ben Malbon, Clubbing: Dancing, Ecstasy and Vitality (London: Routledge, 1999); Steve Redhead et. al., eds., The Club Cultures Reader: Readings in Popular Cultural Studies (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997); Simon Reynolds, Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture (New York: Routledge, 1998); and Sarah Thornton, Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital (Cambridge: Polity, 1995). [^]
 Andy Crysell, "Ibiza: The Discovery," Ibiza: Inspired Images from the Island of Dance, ed. Ben Turner (London: Ebury Press, 1999) 49. [^]
 Since the focus of this article is on the London theatre, my summary of the rise of Acid House and Generation Ecstasy in Britain is limited to the London-Ibiza connection. Concurrent with London's developing rave scene in the late 1980s, Manchester (which soon took on the moniker of Madchester) experienced a renaissance of club culture too, specifically at the club The Hacienda. For more details about the rise of club culture in Northern England, see Matthew Collin, Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House, 2nd ed. (London: Serpent's Tail, 1998); Reynolds; and Tony Wilson, Twenty-Four Hour Party People: What the Sleeve Notes Never Tell You (London: Channel Four, 2002). [^]
 See Alan Warner's novel Morvern Callar which captures the duality of the island experience as his titular character first experiences the painfully embarrassing 18-30 Club tour in a San Antonio-like English tourist town, before opting to leave her fellow country partygoers and stay in the more native, club scene town down the road, extremely similar to Ibiza town. [^]
 Reynolds also notes that as the effects of Ecstasy began to lose its communal inducing abilities (the more you take of it, the less on an impact it has on your system) the thug matches quickly returned in the 1990s. [^]
 Dominic Dromgoole, The Full Room: An A-Z of Contemporary Playwriting (London: Methuen, 2000) 277. [^]
 It's worth remarking briefly here on the difference between the play and film version (directed by Danny Boyle and adapted by John Hodge), which is the most popular and best-known representation of Welsh's characters. It too features the above scene of the soiled bed covers (this time with Spud). Gibson's adaptation is much more accurate in its representation of the scenes in the novel, including a harrowing scene of Tommy shooting up into his penis; an extended scene of the death of Dawn, Alison's baby, to cot death, malnutrition and neglect; the violence of Franco Begbie; the downfall of Tommy from a clean footballer to a dead AIDS carrier junkie; and the play's final scene where Begbie encounters his father in an abandoned railway station. The tenor, tone and direction are far less glitzy than the film version with its compelling, best selling soundtrack, furious editing, crisp camera angles, and Hodge's seamless screenplay. Numerous characters are dropped and the story tellers have changed for dramatic economy as well as financial economy. The show was written with only three male actors and one female actor in mind. Doubling and tripling occurs and in doing so, makes the piece tourable. In the novel, the embarrassing bed scene actually occurs to Spud and not Renton. [^]
 Droomgoole, 1. [^]
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