Tag Archives: Liam Harkins




Arts Theatre

PORNO at the Arts Theatre



“What keeps this show afloat, while rocking the boat to danger point, are the powerful and charismatic cast members.”

When “Trainspotting” burst onto the London theatre scene back in 1995 it was heralded as one of the ‘most important plays the Bush Theatre has ever presented’. Full of ‘insipient anarchy’, ‘desperate degradation’ and ‘dramatic energy’ it was described as a ‘theatrical stunner’. Irvine Welsh’s novel, published two years earlier, was already a ground-breaking success and the stage adaptation shared its shock value and boldness; jolting audiences out of conventional responses and challenging the rules of what could or should be shown onstage.

A hard act to follow then. Irvine Welsh released his follow up novel, “Porno” in 2002 as a sequel, describing the characters ten years after the events of ‘Trainspotting’, but it took twenty years for it to morph into the stage adaptation that sold out at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and is now running in the West End for seven consecutive Sunday nights. One hardly needs reminding of the pivotal characters – Mark “Rent Bot” Renton, Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson, Daniel “Spud” Murphy and Francis “Franco” Begbie. At the end of ‘Trainspotting’, Mark Renton had run off to Amsterdam, robbing the other three of their cut of the cash from a heroin deal. ‘Porno’ opens with him having to return to Leith due to his mother’s illness. How will Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud react to his return?

The fourth wall is never broken in Davie Carswell’s adaptation (directed by Jonty Cameron) on account of the fact that there isn’t one at all. The cast mainly address the audience from a sparse set depicting the Scottish pub run by Sick Boy. There is an ironic reference early on to the idea that sequels can never match the original but, despite the tongue-in-cheek reference, the notion starts to ring true as we follow the familiar foursome. This has nothing to do with the performances or the sharp, coarse and often funny writing. It is a wonder that these individuals are still alive. Lessons clearly have not been learned and “choosing life” is still an option beyond their grasp. The shock value, however, is diminished – with the exception of its delightful annihilation of political correctness – and the staging is on the tame side.

What keeps this show afloat, while rocking the boat to danger point, are the powerful and charismatic cast members. Liam Harkins, as Renton, depicts remarkably well the smooth veneer of a man wanting to make good and face up to the friends he betrayed a decade earlier. He manages also to convey the fact that maybe he hasn’t really changed much after all. Certainly, Begbie hasn’t. Chris Gavin is a lethal weapon as the psychopathic jailbird, fresh from a stretch inside for murder (reduced to manslaughter because he turned the knife on himself to make it look like self-defence). Never mind Renton being wary of running into him. The audience would do well to look over their shoulders as they trawl out of the auditorium. Tony McGeever is a smooth operating Sick Boy, not to be trusted. The respectable landlord of the pub shields his true nature – and income from credit card fraud and pornography. We relish in the anarchic disorder of their lives, yet it is only Kevin Murphy’s Spud that we have any real feeling for. Struggling with addiction, and a wife and son, he still possesses the young Spud’s jittery, eccentric mannerisms with a vulnerability we root for. A show stealing portrayal of sadness mingled with hope.

Two new characters are introduced. Tom Carter’s racist, homophobic police constable Knox is an ironic delight, while his daughter Lizzie, played by Jenni Duffy with a carnal gusto that puts the men to shame, is quite something to watch. None of the characters fit into the world they now find themselves in. Unfortunately, though, none of the characters quite fit into some of the cliches that are written into the narrative. Some observations about the ‘then and now’ feel shoehorned and sketchy. A sketchiness that filters through the production to the rushed ending. But it is a predominantly absorbing tale of a group of disparate and desperate people who have failed to move with the times. We wonder how they’ve survived and maybe hope they hold on. Eventually to ‘choose life’. We’re intrigued to see where they’ll go next.

PORNO at the Arts Theatre

Reviewed on 5th November2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Matthew Horwood





Previously reviewed at this venue:

The Choir Of Man | ★★★★ | October 2022
The Choir of Man | ★★★★★ | November 2021



Click here to read all our latest reviews


Bury the Dead – 4 Stars

Bury the Dead

Bury the Dead

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 1st November 2018


“Rafaella Marcus’ direction is precise and ambitious, creating distance and momentum with high energy movement and rapid scene changes”


It has been eighty years since ‘Bury The Dead’, the overnight hit that kick-started American writer Irwin Shaw’s startling career, was last performed in Britain and time has been kind to this remarkable and effective First World War play.

Two unnamed soldiers are burying their recent dead when the impossible happens: the dead soldiers stand up and refuse to be buried. The press get wind of it and the generals, fearing the effect on morale, send in the soldiers’ wives, mothers and sisters to talk them into dying peacefully and laying back down in the earth.

Shaw exploits this simple device to ask vital and ever-relevant questions about how war and those that die for their country are remembered. These dead soldiers fight against the notion that “war is only won when the dead are buried and forgotten”, forcing the world to confront not just the horrors of past wars, but the human sacrifice of present ones. Forgetting is not an option. Shaw avoids memorialising and glorifying, opting instead to show intimate scenes between dead soldier and loved one. The message is to remember but not romanticise. Private Dean’s mother runs screaming from the stage when she sees her sons shell-mutilated face. Confrontation might help ease her suffering. Either way, ‘Bury The Dead’ opens the debate on memorialisation and its responsibility to question as well as record.

Verity Johnson creates a foggy, evocative set using the audience to form the boundaries of a trench filled with dirt and bordered by black crates. Rafaella Marcus’ direction is precise and ambitious, creating distance and momentum with high energy movement and rapid scene changes, building expert montages that seem refreshing after long scenes of dialogue. Sioned Jones is compelling in every scene she is in and offers a beguiling performance that tackles multiple roles with ease and attentiveness. She’s matched by Luke Dale, Liam Harkins and Scott Westwood who seem so at ease in their characters and honest that their scenes together and in isolation are thrilling to watch.

Atmospheric and thought-provoking, this production tackles big themes in a tiny space. War is claustrophobic, trench warfare especially, and this feeling is evoked masterfully throughout, breaking only in the final moments when the dead win the day. Gone but not forgotten; remembered for who they were not what they fought for. War is anything but glorious in this vital, compelling, must-see production.


Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich

Photography by Scott Rylander


Bury the Dead

Finborough Theatre until 24th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Imaginationship | ★★ | January 2018
Into the Numbers | ★★★★ | January 2018
Booby’s Bay | ★★★★ | February 2018
Cyril’s Success | ★★★ | February 2018
Checkpoint Chana | ★★★★ | March 2018
Returning to Haifa | ★★★★ | March 2018
White Guy on the Bus | ★★★★ | March 2018
Gracie | ★★★★ | April 2018
Masterpieces | ★★ | April 2018
Break of Noon | ★½ | May 2018
The Biograph Girl | ★★★ | May 2018
Finishing the Picture | ★★★★ | June 2018
But it Still Goes on | ★★★★ | July 2018
Homos, or Everyone in America | ★★★★ | August 2018
A Winning Hazard | ★★★★ | September 2018
Square Rounds | ★★★ | September 2018
A Funny Thing Happened … | ★★★★ | October 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com