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Theatre Review: Trainspotting at Citizens Theatre


Published by Glasgowist.

More than two decades after the original stage play of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was performed at Citizens Theatre in 1994, Harry Gibson’s theatrical adaptation returned on Friday. Directed by main stage director-in-residence Gareth Nicholls, this incarnation of what is arguably Scotland’s biggest cult followed story burst onto the stage with a fresh look and updated production that oozed style as well as substance.

Trainspotting follows a group of degenerate twenty-somethings in Leith who turn to crime and hard drugs in an attempt to escape the reality of social housing problems, dire unemployment, and miserable prospects during the 1980s heroin epidemic. While the original text is fundamentally Scottish, the universality of the issues explored within Welsh’s novel transcend ethnicity.

In his new production – in the middle of the build up to Danny Boyle’s highly anticipated sequel Trainspotting 2 – Nicholls pays homage to the film and incorporates handpicked quotes and stories directly from the novel. In doing so, Nicholls manages to create a shrewd mixture of the candy coloured aesthetics and dark imagery of Boyle’s hugely successful film with the intensified bleakness, gag-inducing gore, and black comedy of Welsh’s novel.

While the look and feel of the production honours and almost mimics that of Boyle’s film, the content of the play very much pays tribute to the original text as each character – not just Mark Renton – has their own moment to narrate in stripped back monologues lit only by a single bleak strip of florescent light. With just five actors in play, each superb cast member – except Lorn Macdonald as Renton – portrays one main and at least one minor character.

Unlike the film, the narration rotates between characters with Angus Miller as the devilish Sick Boy telling the novel’s version of how he sadistically shoots an English bull terrier which then violently turns on its stereotypical mod owner. We also hear from the excellent Chloe-Ann Tylor as Alison who gets some rather unsavoury revenge on sexist customers in what is originally waitress Kelly’s narrative in the Trainspotting chapter ‘Eating Out’. And the wonderful Gavin Jon Wright as the erratic, speed-infused Spud tells the iconic story of his accident with some soiled brown bedsheets.

In a pleasant but paradoxically unnerving surprise, the audience is also allowed a fresh insight into the complex psychology and strange vulnerability of the archetypical Scottish hard man, Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie. As Begbie takes the stage to tell his party piece – an emotionally charged account of how he attacked his pregnant girlfriend in a violent rage – Owen Whitelaw manages to draw out and express glimpses of guilt, regret, hopelessness, and fear from Scotland’s ultimate psycho. As Whitelaw fleshes out Begbie into a more multidimensional character through his vulnerability and his toxic fondness and fierce loyalty for Renton, Lorn Macdonald too shines in this production and is in league with Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of the articulate delinquent, Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton.

With extensive narration and soliloquies from Renton – in addition to his flailing, choking, foaming-at-the-mouth overdose and his hallucinogenic withdrawal sequence with a terrifying adult-sized dead baby Dawn – Macdonald evocatively portrays the incredible highs and apocalyptic lows of addiction.

With creative stylised choreography, innovative composition, a fresh dance soundtrack, and atmospheric sets – from a rustic heroin den littered with needles and a cot, to a slick moving London set – Nicholls’s production maintains yet reshapes the essence of Trainspotting in a fitting tribute to Welsh’s novel and Boyle’s film. In a show that makes the audience physically recoil and exclaim in disgust as Renton lowers into the worst toilet in Scotland, and laugh into a coughing fit at almost every Spud line, this reinvention of Trainspotting is a refreshing and inventive take on Welsh’s cult classic.

What do you think of Trainspotting? Let me know in the comment section below.


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