Monday, 30 March 2015

Theatre review: Trainspotting

Before Trainspotting was a film that launched half a dozen careers, there was a stage adaptation by Harry Gibson. This is the version now given an immersive revival at the King's Head, to commemorate 21 years since the publication of Irvine Welsh's original novel. Much of the bench seating has been removed in Sandy Hale's set design, which crams the audience around the action for Greg Esplin and Adam Spreadbury-Maher's production. Renton (Gavin Ross) narrates the story of his life as a heroin addict in late '80s-early '90s Edinburgh, surrounded by friends who are mostly fellow junkies or, if they're not, are somehow even more fucked up, like the psychotically violent Begbie (Chris Dennis.) If you're somehow unfamiliar with Trainspotting, you might have missed the fact that it's a black comedy, an element that's much in evidence in the play's early scenes, but which gradually subsides as the consequences of addiction become impossible to ignore any longer.

Gibson's adaptation dispenses with the character of Spud, conflating him with Renton and Tommy (Esplin.) It means the story becomes very much that of the opposite trajectories their lives take.

It also means Renton gets both of the notorious scatological setpieces, which are the best example of how the production messes (literally) with its audience. The play's barely begun before Renton's woken up in someone else's bed, covered in every possible variety of his own bodily fluids, and soon Ross is clambering over the audience in an extendedFULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY ALERT!leaving behind filthy bedclothes as he goes, as often as not draped over people's heads.

This audience trolling is the production's trademark and the most memorable part of the show - it sees the cast requisition the spectators into the action, whether to flirt* with the women or scream in the men's faces, and really isn't the show to go to if you're afraid of audience interaction as there's hardly anywhere to hide. This does calm down as the story takes a more serious edge, but there's still an air of unpredictability, the next scene could take place pretty much anywhere in the room.

My only real disappointment with the production is that, while in most regards it admirably finds an identity all of its own, the character designs and costumes seem a bit too similar to those in Danny Boyle's film, and I wished they could have found a new visual identity as well. At least Chris Dennis' pierced nipple isn't something I would have imagined Robert Carlyle's version of Begbie having. It's a minor point in a distinctive production though, with strong performances from Ross' energetic Renton, Dennis' unpredictable Begbie and Neil Pendleton's handsome, spaced-out Sick Boy.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, adapted by Harry Gibson, is booking until the 11th of April at the King's Head Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

*flirting with / pelvic thrusting towards, potayto / potahto

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