There are three questions that come to mind when thinking about this production of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. Is it up to the considerable hype? Is the play any different from the iconic 1996 film that followed the book and first production? How do they do the famous ‘worst toilet in Scotland’ scene?
The answer to the first question depends on how much you care about the answer to the second. It is a challenge to bring something fresh to a narrative that is already so well known as both a film and a book. Nearly everyone will be familiar with the story about a group of Scottish heroin addicts led by the charismatic Renton (MacDonald). The play showcases some of the most famous scenes from the film and is something of a greatest hits rather than an original work.
I had hoped EJ Boyle’s choreography might bring something new to the stage, but it’s remarkable how stylistically cinematic her interpretation is, including slow motion sequences and stop-start dancing to classic 90s tunes. That said, highlights include Mother Superior emerging from within the sofa and Renton’s glitzy gameshow hallucinations. If you wanted a reminder of why you love the film, this is the production for you. It certainly makes me want to watch the forthcoming sequel, T2: Trainspotting, in cinemas early next year.
The five person cast handles multiple major characters well, moving smoothly between bleak, degrading scenes and comedy. Gavin Jon Wright is particularly funny as Spud. Standout monologues include his narration of the dirty sheets scene, and Chloe-Ann Tylor’s tampon soup speech. The scene where she wears nothing but a pair of white knickers, however, seems somewhat gratuitous. Owen Whitelaw’s two man fan club are sitting directly behind me and are particularly (and rightly) appreciative of his appearances as Mother Superior, whooping, ‘We love you Owen’ at frequent intervals.
The poster advertising this production features an iconic image from the film that does not feature in the play: Renton’s legs sticking out of a toilet. In the film Renton vanishes down the u-bend and has a surreal swimming experience that did not feature in the original play. This leads me to my third question. Do they do the toilet scene justice? If there was ever an opportunity to do a truly theatrical interpretation of Trainspotting, this was the scene that could have been adapted to great effect. However, bearing in mind that this play was the template for the film and not the other way around, it is not surprising that the two bear such close resemblance. I had high hopes. Were they met? Somewhat, the cast certainly did a great job. Were my hopes exceeded? No. This production is first and foremost an homage to Danny Boyle’s film, missing great opportunities to develop Trainspotting in more theatrical directions.