Trainspotting – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Writer: Irvine Welsh

Adapter: Harry Gibson

Director: Gareth Nicholls

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

The iconography of Scotland is divided in twain, on one side: Brigadoon, Local Hero and Brave. The folk, historic, mythical and the fantastic. On the other side the gut-wrenchingly visceral realism of Trainspotting. In this, Irvine Welsh birthed something which harps more with Scottish culture than tattie scones, rain, methadone and deprecating humour. Adapted for the stage, the culturally revolutionary book is served up to a home crowd.

Mark Renton (Lorn Macdonald), on the dole, searching for a way to earn dosh and a quick fix, yet charming, familiar even. The plot for Trainspotting, of which there isn’t one really, is divided between tales of anger, survival and turmoil. An adapted voice of the many, tidied and made public. Set primarily in Leith during the eighties, it’s raw frankness with addiction, heroin or other destructive properties, makes it a masterpiece of literature.

An assembling of lives, real lives. Not sugar coated or presented with a false value. It’s uncomfortable simply in how close its depiction of Scottish society is. Adaptation, not only of a text but of a significant film is difficult. The segments which are cut, are understandable. Trimming the fat doesn’t detract from the meal, it simply focuses our attention on the meat of the matter. Characters such as Sick-boy may lose characterisation, but enough is there to service the plot.

Gibson, with Nicholls and designer Max Jones, haven’t allowed spectacle to rule the production. Talent, both written and performing fuels this production. Minimalistic usage of lighting, effective but not distracting. The high-rise flats of Leith, hanging above our cast are realistic but completely decorative. There purely to manifest illusion and set the stage. Not to score points for strong aesthetic.

So much of Trainspotting is in its performers. Macdonald, our most frequent storyteller, services the role as best as Ewan Macgregor could. None of these performers feels like actors, they feel like residents. Gavin Jon Wright takes the role of Spud, arguably the most fleshy and comedic, and completely encapsulates the part. So easy is it to cross the divide of comedy into the world on unrealistic. Wright never does this, nor does Martin McCormack as Begbie. A character so aggressive, so volatile in their insecurity that the Looney Tunes seem to be one member short.

Pushing the envelope, that boundary of comfort is expected with a production such as this. Yet, it never steps out of the confines of ‘icky’. Anyone familiar with the Festival Fringe productions will know the levels of (unwilling) audience splashback. There’s a real excuse to force the stench of regret on the audience but it’s held back. Kept at a safe distance to observe, but not fully emote with the characters. The repulsion which might be expected is merely hinted (for better or worse, depending).

Nevertheless, Trainspotting is timeless. References may become dated one day. Its themes, however, are eternal for the foreseeable future. Situated at home in Edinburgh, this production hits close to many an audience member. So, none of this ‘Choose Life, Choose this show, Choose Trainspotting’ nonsense. Clichés aren’t required, for this production speaks for itself.

Runs until 18 November 2017 | Image: Contributed


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The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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