It’s great to get away from the telly of an evening and spend some time down by the river at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios. Such a delightful spot for a quick prosecco before the theatre, dahling! But tonight’s a bit different. Tonight is Trainspotting Live, an immersive adaptation of the book by Irvine Welsh, made into an infamously graphic film starring, amongst others, Ewan MacGregor.
Instead of prosecco, on arrival I’m handed a glowstick bracelet and given a clearly spelled out list of warnings about the show to come: full nudity, offensive language, strobe lighting, interactive behaviour – it’s all there on paper. But you can’t begin to anticipate how that will blast you when you go into the theatre!
Stepping into the auditorium, there’s a full on rave going down. Before I’d even put my ticket away I’d been told in no uncertain terms to “Put yer f***** phone away!!!” by Begbie (Olivier Sublet), screaming in my face. This sets the tone for the offensive, violent, crass, disrespectful and unconstrained performance of a lifetime. It’s astonishing and magnificent! The energy is off the scale as the cast career around the space, seemingly spaced out. They wrap their arms round audience members, talk invasively in their faces and sit on them. We’re in their world now: the world of the junkie. The music is loud and visceral. It hurts your ears, but it enacts the hit of the drug user, taking you out of yourself to a joyous new space. You are alive!
Like the book, Trainspotting Live is episodic. It smacks you repeatedly in the face with shocking, often hilarious, but always extreme glimpses of the lives of young heroin users in Edinburgh. The most memorable chapters are here played out with intensity and animal commitment.
This is a flawless, fearless, and dynamic cast that grasp the narrative by the neck, squeezing every inch of life from it. Andrew Barrett is phenomenal as Renton, juxtaposing his sparkling vivacity with a deeply tragic character, struggling to get clean in a life offering nothing to get clean for. From nastily soiled loser, to loyal friend to unsuspecting killer, he portrays a convincingly dark vision of drug abuse, punctuated with poignant glimpses of what might have been.
Sublet is a brutal, terrifying Begbie. Even when he’s not doing anything he emits danger and is a striking physical presence. But there are massively emotional moments in the production too. Greg Esplin as Tommy will break your heart with his portrayal of a likeable, vulnerable boy let down by the ignorance of his friend. The direction by Adam Spreadbury-Maher with Esplin and Ben Anderson is compelling, piercingly focusing attention on each searing story, and supported by superb lighting choices. In particular, the simplicity of the baby scene brings chilling clarity to a truly dreadful moment, with Allison (Lauren Downie) and Sick Boy (Michael Lockerbie) expressing unthinkable loss and incapacity in stellar, polar performances.
This show is not going to be to everyone’s taste. It’s probably the most full on, offensive and challenging production you will ever attend. But it is magnificent and it is timely. Even thirty years after the book first came out, the proposal to ‘choose life’ begs the question, in today’s society what kind of life do most people even have the choice of? Choose Trainspotting Live: take all your friends to the party to end all parties and experience this life, because at the end of the day you can enjoy it and still walk away from it. But wear old clothes!
Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher with Greg Esplin and Ben Anderson
Adapted by Harry Gibson
Lighting by Clancy Flynn
Sound by Tom Lishman
Produced by Seabright Productions, King’s Head Theatre & In Your Face Theatre
Trainspotting Live plays at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith until 6 November. Further information and bookings can be found here. The show will then play at Southampton MAST (9 – 12 November). For this date and to check for new dates see the show’s website here.