As I walk into a tunnel with my glowstick held aloft and the pounding beats of nineties rave, Trainspotting opens with a raucous start. For anyone either unsure of the plot, or what immersive theatre might involve, it could all be a bit unpredictable and uncomfortable. But that’s exactly what Adam Spreadbury-Maher aimed to do with Harry Gibson’s script of Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel.
Like in the book, film, and experience of addiction, the first part is fun, if shocking. Some highs and some laughs, right from the euphoric start of the rave. Witty jokes and incoherent banter ricochet across the stage, and the actors perform with unbridled energy, relentless in their pursuit.
But like the voyage of heroin junkies, things get dark, and quickly. Craving silence to silence life’s demons, this desperate group of individuals are not judged or pitied, but accepted for the reality of their situation. Who is choosing life?
Condoms and cocks, shit and swearing are all in there. That’s even before you get to needles and the stark reality of drug addiction. Fast moving to the extreme, it’s like watching a montage of scenes aiming to shock, and as the audience are pulled in people start to squirm. Dramatic gasps from the audience are to both the toilet humour and threat of nudity in their lap, and the painful wretchedness that these characters experience in their addiction. It’s not just toilet humour, but abuse and despair as violence to the self and others takes over and the fix becomes the most important goal in life. Cooking up trumps it all.
Relentless in pace and ability to shock, there are no boundaries between characters or cast and audience. Whilst this does mean there’s no hiding from the events, as a fast paced 70-minute show, we never are able to really get absorbed in their stories. It’s all too in your face to be in your heart, with a lack of context of the world and background, and it’s definitely a play for those who have seen or read previous adaptations. Although the scenery is bare, the effects are used well, especially the jutting lights cast over a pallid Tommy sliding into addiction as The Smiths’s ‘Sing Me To Sleep’ plays.
Many of the Scottish cast have been with the production in its various forms over the last few years and Gavin Ross as Renton, Erin Marshall as Alison, and Chris Dennie as the fierce Begbie particularly shine. With three shows a night, the relentless force with which they throw their bodies and minds into the acting is admirable, and no doubt exhausting. There’s a reason that Trainspotting has become such a modern classic. Whether you’re reading the book, watching the Danny Boyle 1995 film, or in an underground tunnel whilst Scottish twenty somethings act out the mournful decline into an abyss of addiction, it will make you sit up and take notice. Which is what art should do.