Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin, Trainspotting has returned to Bristol for another show after a sell out run as part of Tobacco Factory Theatres BEYOND in April 2016. We had both heard rumours about the show from those who has seen it in April. It was meant to be remarkably close to the film. If you have seen the film, you would rightfully understand that we were a little nervous! Karen and I joined a growing crowd in The Loco Klub where this production was taking place, located in the tunnels under Bristol Temple Meads. This is an amazing space; atmospheric, a little dark and edgy, and it perfectly suited this piece of theatre. The audience was unexpectedly eclectic, a mix of young and old, middle-aged men in beige and ladies in smart cardigans next to both young and ageing punk rockers and ravers, all flannel, fluorescent hair, and nose piercings. Did some of those other audience members have an idea of what might be rocketing their way?
In all of its various mediums, Trainspotting has lived in some kind of infamy, and the theatre production has crept into that too. Karen and I had discussed our anxiety before: rumours of audience participation and bodily fluids being flung had left us in anticipation of something wild and chaotic. I was aware of a danger that I hadn’t ever felt in a theatre before. This was heightened by the venue and how we were seated within the stage. The audience were scattered around the scenery, becoming cast members ourselves as we’re laid on, sat next to, dragged onto the stage or having Begbie shout in our faces. Its a little claustrophobic so you can do nothing but laugh, sweat and breathe with the cast as they thunder through this show. And we did laugh, really belly laugh at times.
Everyone that I’ve spoken to about it has asked about a couple of infamous scenes, ones that have stayed with them from the film or book and that you almost can’t imagine how someone would even attempt to recreate. (Think of toilets, of stained sheets, of certain parts of the male anatomy…) I can see the appeal, that morbid curiosity of a bloke soiling himself, or of full frontal nudity on stage. However, to distil the show to its most shocking parts would be doing a massive disservice to what is a haunting, affecting and incredible piece of theatre. I’ll admit I gave a huge sigh of relief when I was ushered past the ‘Worst Toilet in Scotland’ to my seat, but those flinches, that constant unsteadiness, is what left me open to experience what was really on offer. Trainspotting is exhilarating, traumatising and an adrenaline fuelled joy to watch.
The cast is phenomenal; frantic, manic, exhausting. I was in awe of them, how they do it three times a night is incredible. Some cast members may even finish the show with fresh bruises every night, and that chemistry between them was palpable, sparking with every interaction. I left the show feeling energised, electrified, by their performance. All of them brought something new, all of them were amazing and I joked with Karen that my review could just be me gushing for 20,000 words about each of them in turn! For the sake of brevity: Gavin Ross’s Renton was more hollowed out than I’d ever imagined him, wide-eyed and intense, playing that constant battle between quitting and relapse with a ready expectation of his own failings. Greg Esplin’s Tommy was laddish and charismatic but seemingly immune to the failings of his peers, up until the the last few scenes when you realised he was pretty tragic and fragile all along. Sick Boy (Michael Lockerbie) was really intriguing, and even when louder characters dominated. (e.g. Begbie (Chris Dennis) who was commanding, monstrous in parts, and unapologetic at all times) I found my eyes drawn to his cool detachment, his ready shrug, his smirk tucked carefully away. Erin Marshall played Alison and Rachel Anderson played June, but also took on all the other females in the show. They certainly gave the boys a run for their money, they were crass, sexy, vulnerable, gobby, powerful, intimidating, magnificent and damaged.
The script was powerful, perfectly capturing that sense of disconnection found in the novel. There was a looseness; snapshots of chaos, more a montage than a plot. It followed the highs and lows of addiction without glamorising or demonising the characters while all the main themes are upheld. Not just drugs, but addiction generally, urban poverty, and a class system that some of us kid ourselves into believing doesn’t exist anymore. The show has a symbiotic relationship to its soundtrack, from the opening rave to every scene transition, the music is not just pure nineties nostalgia, but just another sensation to fill you up, another gut punch delivered fearlessly.
Maybe you’ve watched the film, or you’ve read the book. Maybe you’ve done neither of those things, and you are completely new to Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. Be prepared for an intense ride. In Your Face and King’s Head Theatre have brought a visceral, tragic, immersive production that assumes nothing of you, but grabs hold, and shakes you awake until you feel like you might never sleep again.
Trainspotting is at The Loco Club, Bristol, till the 24th September. Tickets available at https://www.
Review by Josie Sutton