MICF review: Trainspotting Live

Manically immersive theatre unleashed that really has to be seen full frontal to believe. Terrifying and magnificent in equal measure.

When Irvine Welsh’s brutally uncompromising look at Leith’s rampant heroin scene and rave culture burst forth in literary form, the rough side of Edinburgh vernacular intact, the mayhem contained within was ripe for filthy adaptation.

While most of us of a certain age will be intimately, graphically familiar with Danny Boyle’s 1996 big screen take starring Ewan McGregor and Johnny Lee Miller, recently reprising their roles as Renton and Sick Boy in T2, fewer will recall that Harry Gibson’s stage play came first.

Currently tearing apart personal space bubbles in fortyfivedownstairs vaulting basement space as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Scottish troupe In Your Face Theatre’s all-in rendition lives up to their name. It’s a full frontal experience quite unlike any other that fully embraces Welsh’s wild spirit.

Kicking of before you’re even seated, audience members are given glow sticks and rubber “Choose life” wristbands in the profane graffiti-strewn bar area, replete with handy reminders of slang that may well be impenetrable anyway thanks to the bona fide accents of the cast. Worked up with classic 90s club raves as you sink cheap beers, be warned that if you don’t want to share, choose your seat wisely on entering the in-the-rectangle space, and stay WELL away from the worst toilet in Scotland.

After an extended sequence where the players get sweaty to similar tracks, stealing drinks and slathering themselves all over the front row’s bravest, the fourth wall invasions only exacerbate from thereon in in this artistic assault of the sense directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin.

Gavin Ross is a human hurricane incarnate as Renton, as furiously charismatic a potty-mouthed poet as he is an oft-repugnant character. Awakening in shit-soiled sheets that soon get flung into the screaming masses, his monologues are spat, quite literally, rapid-fire into the front-row faces that must also look out for low-flying condoms.

Unfazed by getting his bollocks and butt out in close proximity, our intrepid narrator’s deft dance around this nightmarish descent provide some small semblance of an anchor amidst the mayhem as co-players pile on in.

Chris Dennis makes for a terrifying Begbie, if not quite as unpredictable as Robert Carlyle’s incendiary performance then there’s still an added menace amplified by his much-more muscular frame and a snarl that at times seems like it might bite the poor blokes sitting closest. Michael Lockerbie’s bleach-blonde Sick Boy and Esplin’s Tommy both manage to elicit our sympathies during this downward death spiral made all the more horrifying by its visceral nature.

If the decision to excise the text’s most sympathetic character Spud seems a little strange, it’s understandable in the context of the raw wound bleeding out in thrashing agony here, cut through with the manic humour we all know and love despite its innate horror. An insane experience that’s a credit to all involved, Trainspotting Live pulses with a madness said to have shocked even Welsh himself. That knowledge alone should inform whether this show is for you. One of the best things I’ve seen so far this, or any, year, I say be brave, be bombarded, choose strife.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords

★★★★1/2

Book tickets to see Trainspotting Live at MICF here.