After the 20th anniversary of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting and the release of the sequel T2 last year, Festival Theatre welcomes the touring stage production of Irvin Walsh’s infamous novel about a group of heroin addicts in 1980s Britain. Set in Edinburgh, director Gareth Nicholls recreates the original cult movie censoring none of its vulgarity as he follows the aimless lives of ‘Leither’s on the dole’, as narrated by our protagonist, Mark Renton.
The task of recreating such an iconic and cinematically styled production as Danny Boyle’s original cut certainly renders the audience apprehensive over a stage experience, but the opening scene immediately dispels any doubts. In Renton and Spud’s interview scene, the uncanny likeness of Gavin Jon Wright to Ewen Bremner’s distinct portrayal of Spud is laughably accurate. Wright has perfected the bow-legged restlessness that, accompanied with streams of rapid, nonsensical Scottish, introduces the shot of comedy that intersperses the play’s darker segments.
Spud’s innocence is juxtaposed with an equally convincing embodiment of Begbie by Martin McCormick, who provides a mirror image of Robert Carlyle’s provocative mannerisms and posture. Begbie’s volatile temperament allows for explosive, on-stage violence that is typically enhanced by a fast-paced action scene set to up-tempo music and strobe lighting. Without the occasion for cinematic close-ups of character to intensify the film’s narration, Nicholls instead holds individual monologues under the spotlight where the cast recount equally coarse stories that become a microcosm of their characterisation.
Aside from acting talent, the most impactful part of the play is undeniably the overall production. Lighting, sound and set were crucial in recreating the surrealism of the drug intoxication without the aid of special effects. The derelict set centres on a battered sofa, from which characters swam out in the heroine sequences, and a pool table that doubles as the bed of Mark and Diana’s explicit lovemaking that spins in tandem with Begbie’s fight. Undoubtedly, the out-of-body drug trips are Trainspotting’s most memorable scenes and, although manipulation of lighting and sound is impressive, the play ultimately does not capture the surrealism that evoked real confusion and disgust from the original film audience of 1996.
For a touring show, the set was phenomenal; starting off desolate it transforms into a variety of scenes that transports the audience to the immediacy of Renton’s hallucinations. Upon arriving in London, the four male leads are silhouetted against the flashing lights of a luxury marble suite that approaches upstage, illuminating the hope of new money. As Renton escapes onto the roof, the suite is dimly lit as we see the unnerving progression from discovery to rage as the others realise their mistake and the suite struggles to contain Begbie’s temper while Renton’s voice-overs perform the iconic soundtrack “Choose Life”.
An astonishing re-enactment of Boyle’s infamous original; Nicholls strikes the perfect balance between sombreness, action and surrealism with a talented cast and well-used set budget.
Runs until 18th November
Photo Credit: Tim Morozzo