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Theatre Review: Trainspotting at Citizens Theatre (2017)


Published by TSA.

It’s a quiet, soft moment on stage. A group of scanty clad, intoxicated delinquents are slowly being roused from their drunken slumber when the silence finally breaks as Alison (Chloe-Ann Taylor) makes the worst, most unthinkable discovery a mother can make.

Taylor’s profound, shattering wails pierce the eerily still air and reverberate through Citizens Theatre from the stage to the exit doors as the audience watches on, helpless in horror, as Harry Gibson’s colourful and concentrated Trainspotting reaches breaking point. No longer are the lovable Leith scallywags free to enjoy spectacular highs with their only worry being their next score. Now, real life has obliterated their rose-tinted world as Alison’s baby Dawn tragically dies from neglect in a dingy flat littered with bloodied needles, condoms, and unknown doses of unknown drugs made in somebody’s kitchen.

This pivotal moment in Gibson’s massively successful stage adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s cult 1993 novel marks the beginning of the end of an era for Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, and Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie. Before this scene, the play’s first act is an ecstatic, care-free, fun-filled, albeit still grim and unsettling, experience which immerses the audience in the hypnotic and explosive highs of addiction. Following baby Dawn’s death, however, the illusion of stunted adolescence is destroyed as responsibilities, deaths, overdoses, heroin withdrawal, and HIV infection inevitably rear their ugly heads.

Directed by in-house director Gareth Nicholls, Trainspotting is back for a second run after its massively critically-acclaimed debut back in September 2016.

Bringing a refreshing production with a renewed sense of gore, squalor, and unnerving but hysterical black hearted comedy, the emotive delight of round two of this play is intensified tenfold following the release of Danny Boyle’s highly anticipated sequel, T2 Trainspotting, in January this year.

With Boyle’s already iconic and beloved sequel fresh in our heads, snippets from individual character monologues lit only by a harsh, fluorescent light and entire scenes towards the end of the action evoke new meaning in light of T2 Trainspotting. One such scene takes place in Leith Central as the protagonists gear up for a mammoth drug deal which will take them to the bright lights and dangerous streets of London. As they wait for the rest of the gang, casual luggage bag filled with heroin in hand, Lorn Macdonald’s complex and dynamic Renton and Martin McCormick as Begbie spot an old drunkard swaying from side to side, trying to keep his polybag carry out in his grasp.

As they shoo him off, McCormick’s petrifying and disturbing Begbie confesses to Renton that the old waster is in fact his father. Renton, speaking to the audience, indulges that when they left Leith Central, Begbie let out decades-worth of pent-up anger directed at his deadbeat dad by savagely attacking an innocent, random passerby.

This moment brings to mind a T2 Trainspotting scene featuring Robert Carlyle’s incomparable Begbie relived in one of Spud’s ‘wee stories’ when Begbie meets his dad in that very same station (a scene cherry-picked from Welsh’s text) and Begbie later confessing to Renton during their mighty, long overdue square-go that he killed a man once, a man who did nothing to him, in a moment when he was thinking of Renton.

It is these moments and others like this interspersed throughout the stage play which create a patented blend of Welsh’s Trainspotting and Porno, as well as Boyle’s massive blockbusters. By creating a discourse between the seductive, gritty aesthetic of Boyle’s vision of Thatcherite Leith morphing into an invigorating New Labour Britain alongside Welsh’s boundless filth, heart, and black comedy, Nicholls’s adaptation ranks highly and takes a well-deserved seat alongside the cult classic’s cinematic and rival theatrical adaptations including the immersive experience, Trainspotting Live.

With a phenomenon cast including the remarkable Angus Miller as the lovable, tragic Tommy and the scheming, twisted Sick Boy, and the immensely talented Gavin Jon Wright who perfectly plays the energetic, baby-faced old man Spud, Trainspotting at Citizens has everything going for it. Every aspect of the show has been painstakingly considered from costume, choreography, and set design to vocabulary, pace, and special effects.

A remarkable tribute to the entire Trainspotting franchise (book, cinema, and theatre alike) with a refreshing portrayal of a timeless story with social issues, relationships, and characters that transcend time and nationality.

Running at Citizens Theatre until November 11, Trainspotting is an absolutely extraordinary and unmissable show that will make you laugh, cry, and, of course, heave.

Have you seen Trainspotting at Citizens? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

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