Trainspotting Live, Vaults

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by Laura Kressly

Two men pelting it down Princes Street in Edinburgh as a voiceover lists the goals of typical adult life – big tellys, cars, careers – is one of the most iconic moments in British cinema. Ranked tenth by the BFI in its 1999 evaluation of best British films, Trainspotting has left an indelible mark on popular culture.

This theatrical adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel, clearly influenced by the film, has backed up the story’s legacy what with its several runs in London and Edinburgh and its raft of stars from critics. Billed as in immersive experience, the 90-minute show is aggressively messy, utterly revolting and a sensory overload – and an anarchically fun celebration of a party lifestyle that doesn’t ignore the consequences of drug use.

The storyline is a loose patchwork of scenes linked more by characters than plot. Harry Gibson’s script is episodic but there’s enough of a thread to build up to a climax, albeit one that is dwarfed by the extremity of what we see before it. The most graphic and notorious moments from the film are included, creating a shock-and-awe of gross-out scenes. The audience, lining both sides of a narrow stage, are not exempt from the bodily fluids that feature so heavily (pro tip: don’t wear anything that will get ruined by stage shit and bog water).

The script is defined by its intense, chaotic mess, but is not without more sobering moments. When Alison (Erin Marshall) finds her baby has died then begs for another hit, it’s not funny or gross. It’s pure tragedy. Chris Dennis as Begbie exudes rage and frustration as he kicks his heavily pregnant girlfriend and drags her around. Renton (the charming and charismatic yet simultaneously disgusting Frankie O’Connor) commits to going clean after *that* toilet scene, and Tommy (Finlay Bain) dies of AIDS. They are dwarfed by the more outrageous moments, but a bit of elbowing means they aren’t forgotten.

Despite its shortcomings, this is an outstanding example of popular theatre – gross, funny and interactive, it’s great for groups and those looking for a relaxed/party-like atmosphere. Beginning with a rave and barrelling through to the last blackout, Trainspotting Live is an important contribution to theatre’s ecology and balls-out fights with its reputation for being stuffy and inaccessible.

Trainspotting Live runs through 3 June, then transfers to New York.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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