Trainspotting

When I told friends I was going to see a theatrical interpretation of Trainspotting they were sceptical. Mainly because they loved the 1996 film and it had such an impact on them. They couldn’t see how the story, centred on heroin addiction in Leith, could be translated to the stage. “How would the play deal with the famous/infamous ‘toilet scene’?” was one question. I didn’t know whether they were right or not. Certainly the film set a high bar of expectation and to meet that in a different medium would be challenging.

There doubts were answered when I saw the production, it is simply one of the best things I have ever seen. The passion and energy of the cast as they rove the audience and stage just communicates to all present. The audience is put on edge by the interaction and that creates a strange tension between the cast and them. They certainly had my attention as I wondered what they would do next and if they would ‘pick on’ me! Gavin Ross as Renton acts as a kind of narrator and he confronts us with a disturbing, yet sometimes bleakly funny, alternative view. One minute the audience were laughing but then the mood changed and we were gripped by the tragedy unfolding.

And, let’s be frank, Trainspotting is a tragedy. How could it be anything else? Happy endings aren’t that common amongst Heroin addicts. The best that can be hoped for is recovery but often the conclusion is a life cut short. Trainspotting is a bleak story of alienated, trapped people who are slowly killing themselves and sacrificing everything for the drug. Erin Marshall hits your emotions when she screams and writhes in tortured agony at the loss of her child. Renton and the others are incapable of holding her or offering comfort. They babble and are concerned more about their next hit.

Trainspotting was accused of ‘glamourising’ drugs by some stupid Tories when the film first came out. I wonder if any of them actually bothered to watch it before condemning and pontificating in their hostile soundbites. The script is based on the 1994 adaptation by Harry Gibson which is bleakly honest.

Like the book and the film this production is informed about the appeal of heroin and the rituals surrounding it. It partly answers the question as to why people take it, what they get out of it. It is educational, in that sense, but never boring.

The cast just carried the audience with them through every change of pace or tone in the narrative. The company are ‘In Your Face Theatre’ and the performance is certainly that but it is also subtle and nuanced. The company have performed Trainspotting in London and I expect they will be offered more venues after this huge hit at the Fringe. They are certainly ones to watch.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

You can catch Trainspotting at Assembly George Square (Underground) until the 31st August, performances at 18:00, 20:30 and 22:45.

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