Review: Trainspotting Live

From the moment you enter the Trainspotting performance space, which feels like a cross between an underground tube station and a urinal, you are transported back 20 years to the grungy club scene of the 1990s. ★★★★

Feb 20, 2017, updated Feb 20, 2017

Pumping rave music, glow sticks and Doc Martens – it’s a dark and gritty kind of nostalgia.

It is just over 20 years since Irvine Welsh’s novel, Trainspotting, and Danny Boyle’s film adaptation became cult commentaries on 1990s drug culture. Now the story of Edinburgh heroin addict Mark Renton and his circle of friends has been brought to the stage by King’s Head Theatre and In Your Face Theatre’s powerful production of Harry Gibson’s theatre script.

This is a truly immersive experience.

The audience members surround the cast and are constantly part of the action. Drinks are spilled and spat, soiled sheets and condoms are thrown, and random people are screamed at, hugged and abused.

It’s visceral and gritty, with Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s direction perfectly combining the black comedy of the novel with the violent and squalid world that the characters inhabit.

Those familiar with the story (particularly the novel) will find that much has been omitted, including Spud, one of the original main characters, and also Renton’s relationship with schoolgirl Diane. Despite the omissions, this adaptation feels true to the original style of the novel in that it keeps to the structure of a series of short stories strung together in order to give a broad sense of the underground Edinburgh drug scene of the 1990s.

The young Scottish cast members all deliver passionate performances.

Gavin Ross plays Renton, the long-term junkie repeatedly trying to get clean. Chris Dennis is satisfyingly terrifying as the violent sociopath Begbie. Greg Esplin gives a touching performance of Tommy’s tragic descent into heroin addiction, and Michael Lockerbie plays Sick Boy, a role that is small but powerful.

Rachael Anderson and Erin Marshall share the female characters between them and do a seriously good job with them all, particularly Anderson’s version of June and Laura (Lizzy in the book and film) and Marshall’s heart-breaking portrayal of Alison. Calum Barbour is multi-talented as the dealer Mother Superior and a raft of minor characters.

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This is a dark, raw and energetic show, and with its unapologetically prolific drug use, full nudity, obscene language and audience participation it is not a performance for the faint of heart. Fans of both the book and film will definitely find much to appreciate in this version of the much-loved classic and, if you want to be part of the action, make sure you sit at the front and don’t wear white.

Four stars

Trainspotting Live is playing at Station Underground, 52-54 Hindley Street, until March 19. It is rated as suitable for ages 16+.

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