Interview: Greg Esplin, Co-Director of Trainspotting Live
Published by Glasgowist.
In 1993, Irvine Welsh’s ground-breaking debut novel Trainspotting was released. The book disgusted some, infuriated others, and kickstarted a phenomenon which is now a beloved franchise.
Now, over twenty years later, the story of Rents, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie is still being picked up by every generation and reincarnated into new, exciting adaptations.
Based on Harry Gibson’s stage adaptation, the massively critically acclaimed Trainspotting Live has returned home to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this month after a hugely successful world tour. Created by In Your Face Theatre Company, specialising in immersive theatre, the show is back where it all began for the festival season.
Artistic director of the company Greg Esplin juggles the day-to-day running of operations with co-directing and starring in the show as lovable good guy Tommy.
I caught up with Greg in the midst this year’s festival madness to find out more about Trainspotting Live and if the show will be coming to Glasgow any time soon.
SOPHIE: How are you enjoying playing at the Fringe so far?
GREG: Aw, it’s brilliant. It’s our fourth year in a row now. So, it’s good to have a change because we’re in a different venue for once. I absolutely love it. I love taking the show back home.
There’s always a bit of pressure because you tend to think Edinburgh think they own the show which they do a little bit. But the pressure is good in a way – not that we ever take it for granted or become lackadaisical – but it’s nice to be like, ‘Okay guys, let’s not fuck this up’.
S: How did Trainspotting Live come about?
G: We just always wanted to put Trainspotting on stage.
We took Harry Gibson’s play and, if you read it, it’s about two and a half hours long. We essentially just spoke to Irvine Welsh about adapting that into our own little take into a quick, I guess, punch in the gut. A quick 75 minutes. So, it really just came out of asking nicely and having a bit of passion about it.
S: How do you think this performance differs from other stage adaptations?
G: Well, a lot of stage productions, perhaps, and not that this is the wrong thing to do, but they try to put the movie on stage. Whereas we very much wanted to stay closer to the text and to the book and focus on the reality of these characters’ stories and situations, the truth behind it all as opposed to the glamorisation.
It’s definitely not a happy-go-lucky Trainspotting, it’s definitely darker. And there’s nothing wrong with either way, I don’t think, it was just that we, well speaking for myself personally, I absolutely love the book. There’s things in the book that aren’t in the film like Begbie and June, you get to see some of that relationship, and obviously Tommy’s downfall as well.
There’s a lot more behind that than just him going to Renton in the movie and buying some straight away and these are just things we wanted to hit on more rather than just putting the movie on.
S: So, what does your role as Artistic Director of In Your Face Theatre involve?
G: It’s basically the day-to-day running of In Your Face Theatre Company and keeping it afloat. Today, for example, I’m rehearsing with an understudy and we’ve been rehearsing him the last couple of days and then come Tuesday we’ll do a tech with Adam [Adam Spreadbury-Maher], the co-director, he’ll come in and I’ll just be Tommy that day, I won’t be co-director.
It’s important to have a balance and not take on too much. It’s too easy to be like ‘No, this is mine, I’m doing this,’ but actually the more you share something, it becomes a lot easier.
S: What’s the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of playing Tommy?
G: He’s just a nice guy, isn’t he? I love him. I love playing Tommy. His heart’s always in the right place. His backstory in the book is tough because he has a hard time with his mum and his family but he just loves his mates.
The most challenging part of playing Tommy in a 75-minute play is that it’s such a quick downfall. That’s quite difficult but I do love playing him because if you were playing Begbie, for example, a lot of people dislike him straight away whereas Tommy is easy to fall in love with.
It’s not that much of a challenge to get the audience to like Tommy. But maybe just switching to the other side when he takes drugs and having to fall to the ground naked 15 times a week, that bit can be quite difficult.
S: When the adaptation first started, did you think it would become as successful as it has?
G: No, not at all. We just did it because we really wanted to put this show on and it was something we absolutely loved. We started it as a bit of a passion project and I guess you never start anything thinking it’s going to become huge.
I think if you’re going into something expecting it to be massive then you’re probably doing it for the wrong reason. We did it because we love the story and we’re all passionate. Passionate about the book, passionate about the movie and I think that’s probably why it’s been so successful because everyone loves what they’re doing.
We just finished a play called The Hard Man about a Glaswegian gangster and it just went so well and I was working with all these guys and Trainspotting was just something we all wanted to do and that was three and a half years ago. We just toured Australia and the whole of the UK and it’s been absolutely humbling. It’s been brilliant.
S: So, will the show be coming to Glasgow?
G: I bloody hope so. I’m from Falkirk so I’m between the two [Edinburgh and Glasgow] and we want it to come to Glasgow. I think next year should be the year. We’re definitely planning another UK tour. So, I’m going to put down a hopeful ‘yes’. Nothing’s totally booked in yet but we’re definitely in talks.
I’d fucking love to bring the show to Glasgow. I think the response from the audience between Glasgow and Edinburgh would be about neck and neck. Glaswegians are great and I’d absolutely love to get the show there.
You can buy tickets for Trainspotting Live here.
Read my review of the show here.