Is it really 20 years since the publication of Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting? This immersive stage version adapts Danny Boyle’s celluloid presentation of the novel brings to larger-than-life some of the characters familiar from the film, but is hampered by an ungainly ensemble.
This is not a production for the faint-hearted. Members of the audience must accept the colloquial language, dialogue directed away from them, and moments that may make some wish they’d not had their tea.
The audience arrived into a club-style situation; murky, warehouse-like and already populated with bodies writhing to the sounds of the DJ. A shady character sidled up to me and placed a small white tablet on my ticket and I became fully immersed in this promenade production. Really though, promenade - with its connotations of strolling peacefully through a park in summertime - is perhaps the wrong word here. The audience became bystanders, voyeurs, targets. We were in the action, stuck within the eerie half-light twilight with the characters as the story unfolded. The set, moving flats revealed different scenes and opaque screens afforded glimpses of unpalatable actions. It was at times terrifying, at times heartbreaking.
Gavin Ross’s Renton was a bundle of sinewy intensity; Chris Dennis’s Begby made Robert Carlyle’s film version seem a little Disney in comparison. Both actors used the promenade format to interact with the audience as if we were bystanders. No-one in the audience was going to argue with them and they never once lapsed from character even when delivering intimidating lines. I’m sure I was not the only one to think: “Please don’t look at me, don’t notice me…”. The rest of the cast gave equally impassioned performances.
This is not a production for the faint-hearted. Members of the audience must accept the colloquial language, dialogue directed away from them, and moments that may make some wish they’d not had their tea. However, this otherwise brilliant production is marred by the black-clad, masked ensemble. In its most inspired use, the ensemble works very well to transport the main characters across the central area and to provide subtle lighting. Too many moments were wasted on the ensemble unstably weaving their way around each other in some form of interpretive dance. This corroded the claustrophobic intensity of the drama, adding nothing to the piece as a whole. The promenade form also prevented the more timid audience members from viewing the action taking place on the central floor.
Overall, this production of Trainspotting is bold, innovative and delivered with passion, justifying the ‘In Your Face’ moniker. With some improvements in the staging, would make this would make for a truly inspired adaptation.