Thursday, May 25, 2017

Trainspotting Live - brutal, energetic and in your face (The MAC until 27 May)

It’s not often you come out of the theatre with your gut in knots. While the late lunch of a pint of milk and sausage roll gulped down at 4pm before a can of 7up was poured on top two hours later may have acted as an accelerant. But the rumbustious, immersive, hyper-real show currently playing in The MAC definitely leaves a shocking mark on its audiences.

Sitting through Trainspotting Live is a seventy five minute onslaught on at least three of your senses, possibly more depending on where you sit. Right from the start, the audience are embedded in the action, and often become extras in scenes as the cast lurch around across the tiered seating that straddles the stage.

It wouldn’t be true to Irvine Welsh’s original writing if there wasn’t plenty of swearing, drug use, violence, nudity and thoughtless behaviour that is ninety nine parts numpty and one part endearing. There’s also toilet humour … though not so immediately funny if you’re sitting next to it.

For the first half I remained quite confused by how the characters fitted together. Between the music, the shouting, and the way the audience is split on two sides, some pieces of dialogue are lost. Among the casualties are names. In the end, being able to tell Mother Superior (Finlay Bain) apart from Begbie (Chris Dennis), Tommy (Greg Esplin), Renton (Gavin Ross) or Sick Boy (Michael Lockerbie) isn’t that important or necessary. You’ll eventually recognise the Leith residents by their tattoos, bruises or willies.

While one failing of the unexpectedly superb T2 film was the near total absence of women, Trainspotting Live includes strong performances from Erin Marshall who brings a lot of emotional intelligence to the part of the grieving Alison, and Rachael Anderson (who plays June amongst other characters).

The scenes of gender violence are much more disturbing to watch than the simulated drug use. [Spoiler ahoy ... but the popularity of the book and film means most people will know the next part anyway.] The revelation of infanticide provides the final turning point of the play, but is emotionally more subdued that some earlier less important fulcrums.

Harry Gibson’s stage version of Trainspotting predates the film, though many sequences have a cinematic feel with on-screen fast cuts replaced with your neck jerking backwards and forwards across the long thin stage, catching a glimpse of boisterous action at one end, noticing that a new character has slipped onto the stage at the other, and realising that yet another actor is now sitting amongst the audience or pretending to be sick down someone’s back.

The cast’s energy is amazing and an act of endurance in itself, with three shows to perform back to back on Friday and then again on Saturday. Interaction with the audience provides many of the lighter moments of comedy throughout the intense show. One scene near the end is probably the most beautifully directed strobe-lit scene I’ve witnessed, testament to the skill of co-directors Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin, as well as lighting designer Clancy Flynn.

Trainspotting Live is a fond companion piece to Irvine Welsh’s writing and Danny Boyle’s film. Incredible performances underpin the portrayal of these hedonistic and self-obsessed lives in such a naturalistic way. The book’s non-judgemental approach to drug taking carries across into the play, but the constant repetition of “live giving or live taking” smacks of stupidity when the negative effects and repercussions of the characters’ habits are so clear to see.

Ultimately, while the play was exhilarating, shocking and a brilliant demonstration of physical theatre and non-consensual audience participation, the lack of more fulsome self-reflection saddened the overall experience as a piece of theatre and left this audience member brutalised and disappointed rather than fired up and thrilled.

Trainspotting Live continues its shocking, in your face, theatre in The MAC until Saturday 27 May before continuing its tour through Lancaster, Salford Quays, Oxford, Leicester, Sheffield, Falkirk, Preston and Edinburgh. Full details of dates and venues on the Trainspotting Live website.

Photo credit: Geraint Lewis

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