Brighton Fringe 2017
This punchy, 75 minute production recaptures the passion and the controversy of the famous novel, then globally successful film, and repackages it into an immersive production – the audience are literally part of the show, including the notorious “Worst Toilet in Scotland” scene.
Fast, furious, stomach churning, shocking and gritty, this is not theatre for the faint hearted. But then Irvine Welsh didn’t write to please a middle class audience.
Originally a novel of short stories orbiting around the lives of young unemployed heroin addicts in and around Edinburgh in the late 80s (released by Welsh in 1993), Trainspotting was made into a hit film in 1996 directed by Danny Boyle. It ignited passionate conversation about the lack of opportunities of young people in underprivileged areas of the UK and revealed common prejudice about drug taking youth: “why don’t they just smarten up and get a job?”. This common misapprehension is illustrated perfectly in a classic scene where its obvious these youth have not learned skills or developed life confidence to rise above their birth right, competing with slick grammar school boys who learnt to sail and play tennis and go away on nice holidays at weekends as opposed to those growing up on council estates who were surrounded by despair, violence, hunger and financial anxiety. So what else can they do if not settle for monotony? Choosing dreary supermarket or labouring jobs with no prospects or future on the horizon?
It’s brown, it’s cheap, and its like the “best orgasm you have ever had, times it by 100 and you’re not even close”. And once you’ve started that path, it’s pretty much a quicksand of horror that follows. Some said Trainspotting glamorised Heroin, some objected strongly, hailing it as the pinnacle of social comment in the late 20th century. For me personally, I watched the characters’ miserable lives descend into shame, pain, death, HIV and loss of bodily functions and, with a shuddery breath, I felt grateful that I had never made THAT choice.
The anger and sense of outrage at social inequality is revisited and made fresh in this startling stage production of the classic film. I am a little nervous as I sit in the audience watching gurning, realistic, drugged out dancing young people build the immersive theatrical experience with loud booming techno (ear plugs offered at the entrance) and flashing UV and strobe lights (there is a long warning list at the entrance, the play’s legal disclaimer of explicit content, heightening the tension).
It’s harsh and brutal to watch at moments, at others it is tragicomical and literally full of toilet humour. The whole cast of actors are a joy to watch; committed, powerful, energetic and convincing.
What would have made this show outstanding would have been more exploration of the physical choreography to mirror and build upon the stunning cinematography of the original film. The cast’s high energy, physical confidence and sheer delight in audience interaction would have been maximised if taken one step more. As it is the actors movement across the landscape of the brilliantly set up stage (in the centre of the audience so we see each others responses) is wild and expressive. Sometimes the play was too quick fire for its own good and would have benefited from more pacing, as plot and dialogue felt a bit lost at times. There was a beautifully poetic moment soon after a very dark scene involving the young mother where this was done very successfully and I would have personally enjoyed more of this. It would have been interesting to see the writing, whilst remaining faithful to Welsh’s original genius dialogue, take another step in developing a unique take on this classic.
Trainspotting was always a film that shocked and divided audiences. But, like this stage adaptation, that was always Welsh’s aim; bringing attention to an ugly, alarming, and much misunderstood aspect of modern life. Even if you didn’t like it, like all good writing, it was thought provoking. This audience loved it, jumping up and giving a standing ovation. Breathtaking, captivating, perplexing, raw and memorable; I was thinking about it for days after.