Review: Creatives at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017

A picture of the show "Creatives" - playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until August 28th.

by Maxwell Modell

The Edinburgh Fringe festival is not just an event, it is the event. It is possibly the biggest draw for the performing arts community every year, with the calendars of fans and performers alike blocked off for the period of August. 2017 marks the 70 annual Edinburgh Fringe festival and is set to be the biggest yet. Last year’s festival consisted of 50,266 performances in 3,269 shows across 294 venues. The festival caters to everyone, from those looking for big names, up and comers or complete unknowns, show casting some amazing (and some not so amazing) artists, from renowned stand-up comedians to one-man performances of Shakespeare and exotic cabaret performance and other performing arts. For me, one of this year’s one most exciting prospects of the Fringe was seeing the new Irvine Welsh pop opera musical, Creatives (Pleasance Courtyard until 28th August).

Irvine Welsh is synonymous with Edinburgh, being one of its most prominent literary figures and with the opening scene of Trainspotting being the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Edinburgh. Therefore, I felt going to see his new, and first musical would be the perfect way to start my first Fringe festival. However, while Welsh himself is the epitome of Edinburgh, Creatives is not.

The darkly comedic pop opera is set in the songwriting class of a Chicago school and follows a songwriting contest put on by former student and super star Sean O’Neil. Exploring the dynamic of the dysfunctional relationship of the class with their different social and political beliefs. Sadly, as well as a strong contrast between the Chicago setting and Welsh’s usual Edinburgh setting, there is also a strong contrast between the success of this play and the other work of Welsh, as Creatives falls flat and performing well below expectation.

The majority of the show is comprised of the students in the class performing songs written by the other pupils. The idea of this in itself is fine, expect while the songs are not inherently bad, they aren’t great either and they are intersected with ideological arguments which only serve the purpose of adding some form of conflict to try and add drama to what just feels like a showcase of songs. Furthermore, while the jokes throughout occasionally made me crack a smile and were well balanced with the drama, far too many felt cheap or just straight up weren’t funny.

At this point in the musical, I was beginning to think it was running out of steam and had nowhere left to go. This thought must have crossed the mind of Welsh and his writing partner, Don De Grazia, as the musical completely changes in dynamic with a third act plot twist which comes entirely from the left field. Following this reveal Creatives shifts from an upbeat musical into a dark melodrama about revenge. And while this final act is well performed, it feels tonally out of place and more like an opportunity for Grazia and Welsh to spout social commentary at the audience in order to try to add poignancy to the piece, commentating on the dominance of arts by the rich, the struggles of growing up as a minority in a poor area and the rise of Trump and social media. While this definitely makes Creatives more interesting, because by this point the format had got rather stale, it doesn’t merge well with the rest of the piece and writes itself into a corner, leaving it unable to come to a satisfying conclusion.

While an interesting experiment for Welsh, I think he would be best sticking to what he knows, as this musical is a rare misfire in a stellar career. Creatives has been tipped to come to the West End next year, however, if it continues to perform as it has at the Fringe I think that rather unlikely. This is definitely one I would give a miss, especially when you consider the other amazing shows on offer at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe festival, include Trainspotting live, which showcases some of Welsh’s best writing.

Read more about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival here!