ComedyDramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Trainspotting – Northern Stage, Newcastle

Writer: Irvine Welsh, adapted by Harry Gibson

Director: Adam Spreadbury-Maher

Reviewer: Chris Collett

Back in the 1990s, there emerged a new generation of playwrights who seemed intent on shocking middle England and outraging the Daily Mail, with expletive-laden dialogue, and graphic depictions of sex and violence. Alongside the likes of Sarah Kane’s Blasted and Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and F**king, one of the most successful examples of, what became known, as in-yer-face theatre was Harry Gibson’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting.

A quarter of a century on from its premiere, Trainspotting has lost none of its visceral energy and dramatic potency despite the mainstream popularity of the Danny Boyle film version. This revival by King’s Head Theatre and In Your Face Theatre is a relentlessly exhilarating production, offering a fast and furious ride through Edinburgh’s underclass. In fact, the only break in the action is when the production has to be stopped after an audience member collapses.

Unlike the film version, which follows a traditional dramatic arc, Gibson’s adaptation remains more faithful to Welsh’s non-linear, episodic style. The audience is given snapshots of the lives of Renton and his friends as they fight, drink and screw in between getting off their heads on heroin.

Played out on an intimate catwalk style stage, with the audience seated on either side, Adam Spreadbury-Maher takes the term in-yer-face theatre a bit too literally. The performers don’t so much break the fourth wall but obliterate it as the cast variously threaten, hug, insult, proposition, and steal from the audience, as well as covering them in the contents of a toilet.

It makes for an edgy experience – no one wants to attract the attention of psychotic Begbie – but it does feel sometimes feel like Spreadbury-Maher’s production is trying a little too hard to shock. And it really doesn’t need to. There are plenty of genuinely disturbing and powerful moments without needing to resort to covering the audience in fake excrement; Begbie kicking his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach; Sick Boy cradling his dead baby in a drugs den; HIV-positive Tommy living out his miserable last days in a derelict flat.

The young cast does full justice to Gibson’s lean, spiky script. Andrew Barrett fizzes with nervous energy as Renton, Oliver Sublet oozes pure menace as Begbie, while Lauren Downe shows impressive versatility taking on all the female roles. Best of all though is Greg Esplin as Tommy, who provides both the funniest and most tragic moments.

Don’t choose life, choose Trainspotting.

Runs until 9th March 2019 | Image: contributed

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