There’s in-yer-face theatre, and then there’s Trainspotting Live. Instead of tickets, audience members are handed glow stick bracelets upon entering the venue. As they walk in they are greeted by pounding ‘90s club music; actors bouncing up and down, screaming, hugging, kissing the crowd. Over the course of the first half-hour, cast members, both male and female, flash the audience, steal their drinks, spit in their faces. Spectators are insulted for their appearance – “Napoleon Dynamite-looking fucker” for one example – then dragged onto the stage by mad lads in bucket hats, apparently Ee’d to the nines. It’s the best kind of theatrical carnage, even if the constant ad-libbing and verbal abuse begin to wear a bit thin midway through.
Irvine Welsh’s novel was first adapted for the stage in 1994, while this live version premiered in Edinburgh six years ago. Trainspotting Live is more aimless, more episodic than the successful film adaptation, combining characters for the sake of brevity and allowing the cast to multirole in a breathless 75 minutes. It is gritty, anarchic and so very Scottish, but the fun doesn’t last.
The jokes dry up, and the tone becomes more serious. Glow sticks are swapped for syringes, joy traded for harrowing social realism and bad vibes. Bad vibes, indeed. Several audience members are escorted out by vigilant staff, sheet-white, somewhere between nausea and mania. This is not a show for the faint-hearted – not that that isn’t exactly how it should be. Presentation of heroin dependence needs to be realistic, and the way the piece progresses from ecstasy to despair reflects the actual development of drug addiction. The only criticism that can be raised here is that the change in mood is too abrupt, perhaps forced by the show’s time constraints.
The best set-pieces from the book and film are kept, though the audience cannot possibly anticipate how they will be involved in the ‘worst toilet in Scotland’ scene. There is reference to Welsh’s text, with Trainspotting’s famous first lines smuggled in halfway through, but enough change to keep the performance fresh. The venue is a tunnel, the crowd sat around a long thrust stage that most closely resembles a catwalk. The actors strut like gakked-up supermodels, sometimes naked and sometimes not, pouting and harassing the audience. Andrew Barrett as Renton and Olivier Sublet as Begbie both exude the right combination of confidence and insecurity, though Michael’s Lockerbie’s Sick Boy lacks the raw charisma that the role demands. The best performances come from understudy James Thackeray, whose Tommy is in turns hilarious and tragic, and Lauren Downie, who performs all the primary female roles with energetic aplomb.
Very much a play of two halves, Trainspotting Live is a difficult watch but a necessary one. It is fearless, immersive, swaggering and loud. However many theatre visits you make this year, there will be none quite like this.
Trainspotting Live is on at EICC – The Tunnel
Times vary; until 26th August
Book tickets here
Image: Geraint Lewis