Trainspotting

Wed 5th – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Louis Shankar

at 12:51 on 27th Aug 2015

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I’ve never seen the film of Trainspotting nor have I read the book; this play made me want to do both. This is a brutal, unflinching production. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll paraphrase from the Fringe website: there’s full-frontal nudity (several times), violence, drug taking (obviously, that’s the core of the story), and scenes of a violent and sexual nature (not at the same time).

It was, surprisingly, an engaging and interactive performance; a warning should probably be given to the front row, who are at risk of multiple bodily fluids and being dragged on stage as an extra. At times, I found this unnecessary, uncomfortable even, but there were moments when it worked, drawing huge laughs from the audience.

The production as a whole was astonishing: perfectly directed, it exploited the awkward space and created a believable, immersive experience. There were multiple times when I was unsure what exactly was happening, either because of the thick Scottish accents or simply the jumpy plot. Nonetheless, I laughed and I teared up; the characters were astonishingly believable and unfortunately likeable.

The lighting, the music and the script were watertight; there was a flourish and a precision I hadn’t yet seen at the Fringe. The disturbing moments were counterbalanced with hilarity, from slapstick humour to improvised insults and perfectly delivered one liners. Nothing felt gratuitous, despite a lot of swearing and nudity; looking back, it was perfectly judged even if, at times, I was shocked.

My only real criticism is that it felt too short: cutting the plot down to seventy five minutes meant some characters were underdeveloped. I also merely wish it were longer so I could have enjoyed it for more time; I didn’t have to put any effort into committing to the performances and by the end I honestly would have thought most of the actors were heroin addicts (in a good way).

This is a show not to be missed, finally brought to its spiritual home in Edinburgh. Expect the unexpected, the heartbreaking and the horrible but, nonetheless, enjoy: this is a professional, carefully judged show that hits all the right spots and, thankfully, paints an appropriately horrific picture of addiction that will stand the test if time.

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Fergus Morgan

at 12:33 on 28th Aug 2015

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In Your Face Theatre, predictably, are big fans of in-yer-face theatre, the immersive, aggressive style of production that blossomed in the nineties. It’s hard to imagine a novel better suited to such treatment than Irvine Welsh’s cult classic Trainspotting, a blistering set of short stories chronicling the lives, loves and labours of a group of heroin addicts in Leith. In Your Face have taken Harry Gibson’s 1994 stage adaptation and created a searing, gritty, wholly unpleasant and brilliantly funny piece of theatre.

Staged in a dingy basement with sweary graffiti scrawled on its concrete walls, a shapeless sofa, and the audience crouched and cowering on the concrete floor, Trainspotting is most certainly not for the faint-hearted. This is a loud, energetic, and thoroughly engaging show. Sex, violence, drug use – often involving needles – and scenes of a decidedly soiled nature all feature heavily, seizing the audience’s attention and refusing to let it go for a breathless 75 minutes.

The cast narrate throughout, hovering around the edge of the set, their rough Scottish voices echoing off the walls. Gavin Ross takes the lion’s share of the spotlight as Renton, our staggering, syringe-wielding anti-hero, whose heroin addiction gets him into some truly horrendous situations – waking up in a shit-spoiled bed in an unfamiliar house, diving into a dilapidated toilet to retrieve some suppositories, crippled by the agony of a come-down. The juxtaposition of hilarity and pathos in these situations is tremendously distilled in a powerful, and extremely likeable performance from Ross. He is supported by a host of similarly convincing characters; the straighter-laced Tommy (Greg Esplin) and the psychotic Begbie (Chris Dennis) amongst the most memorable.

Tommy’s gradual descent into addiction forms the centre-piece of the latter stages of the play, as events take a noticeably darker turn. Gone are the disgusting, but highly amusing, escapades of a drug-addled Renton; they are replaced by harrowing realities of heroin: cot-death, disease, extreme violence. These are mostly handled with the same furious intensity, but when brief moments of calm arrive – such as when a distraught mother (Erin Marshall) quietly weeps on the cold floor at the premature demise of her neglected baby – they only serve to isolate and emphasise the horror of the situation.

From its opening, when the dancing glowsticks of a thumping rave light up the set, to its conclusion, when a blue-veined, red-eyed Tommy lies shivering on the soiled sofa, Trainspotting is a grungy, grimy delight. It’s horrible to watch at times – the frequent shooting-up scenes, narrated in horrific detail, are squeamish to say the least – but that is kind of the point. This is a horrible play. But it is also a brilliant one.

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