Irvine Welsh, adapted by Harry Gibson
The King’s Head Theatre and In Your Face Theatre
Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
Sept 13-17, 2022; 1 hr 15 min
If asked to choose the world of a cult novel or film to fully experience, the heroin-fuelled Edinburgh of Trainspotting might not be everyone’s first choice. But nearly three decades on from the publication of Irvine Welsh’s novel, this immersive stage production of the story is on tour again - and it's quite an experience.
Scottish company In Your Face originally revived Harry Gibson’s stage adaptation in 2013. After success in Edinburgh, the show was taken around the UK and worldwide to great acclaim – in fact the creator of Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie has described Trainspotting Live as the best way of experiencing the world he created.
It is certainly no-holds-barred. The list of warnings (swearing, needles, claustrophobia) and requests (don’t take photos, consider earplugs, no readmission) gives a clue of what’s to come.
Donning glow sticks, the theatregoers are led out of the bar and foyer and into a club. Or, more accurately the auditorium, transformed into a traverse stage.
As the bass thumps, the cast dance with, flirt and scream at those attempting to take their seats either side of the dance-floor set. This is not a show for anyone squeamish about audience interaction.
The rave opening is a masterclass in immersive theatre. The cast – Andrew Barrett (Renton), Olivier Sublet (Begbie), Greg Esplin (Tommy), Lauren Downie (June) and Michael Lockerbie (Sick Boy) bare all, quite literally, in the pursuit of creating an authentic experience. A bowl of grim-looking ceramic (the worst toilet in Scotland) foreshadows what can only be described as, quite literally, shit panto for adults. Excrement and expletives fly.
But what begins as a loud assault on the senses soon becomes a powerfully-tragic piece of storytelling. The transformation isn’t entirely smooth: after riling the crowd up, rowdy audience members have to be reined back in.
The small but perfectly-formed cast fully commit to their roles and characters and are all superb. It’s not a surprise to read that Andrew Barrett has voiced the words of both Shakespeare and Robert Burns – he reminds us brilliantly of the poetry of the source material.
The show is creatively accomplished too: lighting designer Clancy Flynn has created a haunting strobe sequence to be admired, and the sound design is equally impressive, though music might have been used more liberally.
Sadly the long-and-thin staging doesn’t quite work, at least not in the Hope Mill space. Audience members away from either end of the catwalk are forced to crane or lean in, which not only obscures the view of others, but also lessens the atmosphere the cast are successfully creating.
This is a whistle-stop Trainspotting tour. It is not a stage recreation of the hit Danny Boyle movie but a taste of the world Irvine Welsh created. Fans of either will love it.
Trainspotting Live is a full-on, visceral and unique experience. It’s also a raw, emotional and accomplished play. It sometimes struggles to pull those two things together into a cohesive whole, but that doesn’t stop it being a brilliant night out.
Info and tickets here