Trainspotting Live provides the trip of a lifetime. Messy, anarchic, jubilant – but dissolute and very disturbing. Which is all it should be of course, this stage adaptation by Harry Gibson translating Irvine Walsh’s 1993 novel, in all its no-holds-barred glory.
Trainspotting is the story of Mark Renton and his friends, living through the Edinburgh heroin scene of the 1980s. The novel, and the renowned film from 1996 directed by Danny Boyle, are unique and shocking in their different ways. The book is a series of short stories, whose protagonists are linked by heroin or other addictions or criminal activity. It features dialects expressed through phonetic spelling, a mix of first and third person narration, and various voices and viewpoints to throw the reader off balance. The film has a more sequential storyline but uses filmic techniques and visual trickery to heighten the sense of otherness, including many scenes done in one take. Both have a cult following and translating this to the stage was never going to be straightforward.
The very theatrical immersive experience begins with thumping club anthems, glow sticks and a party feel. What set there is, is stark and unsettling, the audience already on edge. A stained mattress, a ripped sofa, pills, syringes, powder and pints. The seating arrangements mean there is no escape from the story or each other and this further heightens the tension. Lighting is used to create pools of focus and to further break down the barriers between audience and performers.
There are explosively funny moments; the dry Scottish humour combined with blunt honesty give a sort of ignorant charm to Mark Renton, leading man played by Frankie O’Connor, and plenty of ‘oh, they really went there’ reactions. Audience involvement is non-negotiable, very funny and cleverly executed. The team of actors do an incredible job of conveying the intensity and desperation of their characters. These are high-energy, in your face performances, and there is nowhere to hide. The atmosphere changes palpably when Begbie, played with chilling authenticity by Chris Dennis, struts on with weapon in hand and the stench of violence wafting off him. From here, the storyline just gets darker and darker, til it ends in a bloody and tragic place.
On film, Trainspotting was hallucinatory, ‘other’, a world apart in content and presentation – here, it’s literally in your face, you can almost smell the sick and excrement and self-destruction. Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher, this is an explosive piece of theatre which thrills, enthrals and shocks. It’s a heart-thumping piece of theatre that let’s you know you’re alive. Choose life.
Reviewer: Kathryn McAuley.
Trainspotting Live runs at Curve 13 -17 March.