Trainspotting Live is pretty much exactly what its audience demands. In following the trials and tribulations of a group of twenty-somethings in the drug-fuelled world of underground Edinburgh, it delivers a shower of booze, bodily fluids and general foulness that is lapped up (sometimes almost literally) by the crowd. Crammed into a tunnel in the bowels of the city, theatre-goers see Irvine Welsh’s novel come to life in a performance of rare verve and complete commitment.
All of the actors hurl themselves into their roles like it’s the final performance, no mean feat with two or even three shows a day for three weeks. While Gavin Ross is appropriately charismatic as leading man Renton and Chris Dennis is clearly having a huge amount of fun as the psychotic Begbie, it is Greg Esplin’s performance as the doomed Tommy that most catches the eye, a touchstone of humanity amongst the bedlam.
And bedlam is certainly not in short supply. Anyone who has seen the film will have a good idea of what to expect, and it all happens about six inches from your nose (closer if you’re lucky, or unlucky, depending on your view). Anyone who is coming to Trainspotting Live without prior experience of Trainspotting should brace themselves for a genuinely immersive experience of sex and drugs and 90s rave music, that for the best part of an hour will have the pulse racing and the eyes popping.
Unfortunately, towards the final third of the show, the play loses its way a little. Once the domestic abuse, cot death, HIV and serious realities of heroin addiction all make their appearance, the verve and life which infuses most of the play understandably drains away. Indeed, it is noticeable that while a wide variety of intoxicants make an appearance (and are even offered to the audience) in the early parts of the show, heroin barely gets a mention, and certainly doesn’t physically appear until right at the end.
With the heroin and its attendant misery, the limitations of the immersive form and cramped, narrow performance space become quite exposed. There is no room to do justice to really quite upsetting scenes, with the result that they lose much of their power and ability to shock. The cast are quite happy to shower the audience in beer and fake bodily fluids, and the audience are quite happy to be showered, but eyebrows might be raised if they started jokily injecting the front row or chucking a baby’s corpse around.
All of this leads to a rather downbeat and oddly abrupt end. In cramming as much as possible into just 75 minutes (the film, for comparison, is almost twenty minutes longer), the play does not give itself room to breathe or undergo any shifts in tone. It is totally hyper, and then totally depressing, and the immersive style of the performance does not lend itself well to the latter.
However, it does lend itself fantastically to the former, and while the story sticks to raving nightclubs and lewd sexual exploits, it is a roaring success. Trainspotting Live allows the audience to safely and vibrantly ‘live’ the world of Trainspotting. It is gross and shocking, and for the most part fantastically good fun, it’s just a shame it ends with a bit of a whimper.