How many times can can you say that, on your way into the theatre, you were handed glow sticks and earplugs? How often do you walk into a makeshift 90s-era club – music pounding, lighting just right – to the sight of the cast dancing, and having a thoroughly good time of it? How many plays have you been to where the audience have been soaked by the contents of The Worst Toilet in Scotland? Stage adaptations of novels and films are difficult things to get right – especially when the source material is as well-known and well-loved as this – but the young cast and crew of In Your Face Theatre bring an infectious energy to Trainspotting Live, a visceral experience that grabs the audience by the throat and never lets up.
Trainspotting Live, like the original novel, is made up of a series of loosely connected vignettes about lives of a group of mates in 1980s Edinburgh. There’s Renton (Gavin Ross) – eloquent, smart and hopelessly addicted to heroin; alcoholic sociopath Begbie (Chris Dennis); slick wind-up merchant Sick Boy (Michael Lockerbie); easy-going and affable Tommy (Greg Esplin) and ensemble players Rachael Anderson, Calum Barbour and Erin Marshall, who all do an excellent job of juggling roles. The entire cast reminded me of just how how exciting it is to be within spitting distance of actors absolutely throwing themselves into their roles.
The entire young cast are bold and confident, clearly comfortable in the approaching the difficult task of making these roles their own, and distinct from the iconic performances of McGregor and co. The loss of Spud is a shame (Renton and Tommy absorb aspects of his character), but I understand the need for brevity – the play is a breezy 75 minutes – and the experience is so relentlessly full-on that a significantly longer run time might have diminished its impact. I’ve not seen many plays where several members of the audience have hurried out halfway through. Fair warning, I wouldn’t recommend this (certainly not the front row seats, anyway) if you don’t like the idea of the cast talking to you, throwing things at you or splashing lager – and worse – over you.
Trainspotting might be a blast, but at its core is a profoundly bleak story about what can happen society’s safety nets fall into disrepair and addiction becomes the only thing that makes any sense. A couple of truly grim scenes drive home an important message: the hedonistic thrills that we associate with Trainspotting, especially Danny Boyle’s film, are really only silver linings to the dark clouds that hang over these characters’ lives.
Trainspotting Live, although it never disowns the novel or the film, stands on its own as a gripping, funny, moving and thought-provoking piece of theatre. For fans, this is an obvious must-watch. For the unacquainted – you’ve got some catching up to do – and this is a great place to start.