Theatre Review: Trainspotting Live at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival


Published by Glasgowist.

Scurrying into what feels like a dark train tunnel buried underneath the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, wearing fluorescent wristbands as admission, the nervous excitement and eager anticipation in the room is palpable. Based on the 1993 novel by Irvine Welsh and adapted for stage by Harry Gibson, the audience brace themselves for what is promised to be a powerful Franco Begbie right hook from In Your Face Theatre with their production of Trainspotting Live.

Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin, this smash hit has enjoyed tremendous hype and a glowing review from the big man himself, Irvine Welsh, who labelled it ‘the best way to experience Trainspotting’. Currently touring the UK with a stint at Edinburgh’s world-famous Fringe Festival, this show is drawing crowds from around the country. Understandably, expectations are sky high

The venue is perfect for the company’s immersive theatre experience with what resembles a wide catwalk as the performance area and a brick arch above with the audience surrounding the cast almost uncomfortably close on all sides; no raised stage, no barriers, no personal space, and no-holds-barred.


Punters go from being wide-eyed, horrified, and hanging off the edge of their seats one minute to doubled over with laughter the next. But no audience member is safe as Chris Dennis’s terrifying Francis Begbie spits beer on the crowd and violently threatens a front row punter with a pool cue, Michael Lockerbie’s charismatic Sick Boy pulls a victim from the audience onto the performance area, and Gavin Ross’s hilarious and emotive Mark Renton bends over naked inches away from an audience member’s face and gives another punter a dab of speed which is willingly taken without a beat of hesitation.

The first half of the play has tears of laughter streaming down our faces with painfully embarrassing blunders and failed sexual conquests cherrypicked from Welsh’s novel, full-frontal literally-in-your-face-helicoptering nudity, and, of course, the worst toilet in Scotland.

For this scene, the gritty steel toilet sits smack bang in the middle of the audience on the left-hand side of the venue as Renton fishes around in the bowl for his precious opium suppositories. Flinging his own mess all over a recoiling, screaming crowd, he even chucks in a dirty condom for good measure with splats onto a disgusted punter’s head. Stunned, enthralled, and thrilled by the play’s side-splitting opening, it soon dawns on the audience that the come down from this high will be considerable. The good times couldn’t last forever.


This young dynamic cast, oozing raw talent and charm, take the audience on a painted journey of hilarity, stunted adolescence, and recreational drug use gradually slipping into the grim realities of heroin addiction.

As things take a turn for the worst, Tommy contracts HIV, baby Dawn dies, and Renton overdoses, the adaptation’s low moments are traumatic. With a combination of the cast’s portrayal of genuine pain and despair and the intimacy of the setting, we feel very much part of this performance, part of these characters stories. The audience flinch and squirm in their seats as Erin Marshall’s brilliantly hysterical Alison lets out a piercing, bloodcurdling scream and punters visibly tear up as Sick Boy cradles his dead baby Dawn.

Tommy’s death, too, is hard for the audience to recover from as we watch Greg Esplin’s morally-upstanding, lovable good guy deteriorate with no hope of a cure as he slowly slips away in a graphic, heart-breaking scene which leaves a stinging wound.


As the lights fade out to the pounding sound of Underworld’s Born Slippy, evoking the memory of Danny Boyle’s phenomenal generation-defining 1996 film, the audience erupts and gives the cast a well-deserved standing ovation.

Blending the electricity of the film with the grotesque poetry of the novel, the play is a fast-paced, in-depth series of hilarious, heartfelt and heart-breaking stories true to Welsh’s text. With bloody violence, sex, hard drug use, profanity, and nudity, this performance is a thoroughly enjoyable, ecstatic assault on the senses which inspires us to beg the cast to hit us one last time. Just one more hit.

As the show ends, we slowly toddle out of the venue and back into daylight, delightfully dazed and delicate after an intense sensory thrashing. Definitely not a show for the squeamish or the fainthearted, this performance is Trainspotting in its most faithful, unapologetic form. It hasn’t been cut with bicarb or baby formula, it’s pure from the source.

Trainspotting Live is a concentrated hit of the passion and aesthetic style of Boyle’s film mixed in a spoon with the gore, horror, and hilarity of Welsh’s novel, shoved down the barrel of a dirty needle and flushed into our veins.

Choose Trainspotting Live. Believe the hype.

You can buy tickets for Trainspotting Live here.


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

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