From candid snapchats to raving star ratings, rumours were buzzing and the bar for the stage adaptation of Trainspotting was set extremely high. Following the bestselling novel and cult film, it could all have gone very wrong. Nonetheless, before the tour hit Bristol this April, In Your Face Theatre had already had a pretty good time. A sell-out Fringe run in 2015 and the same in London earlier this year, no less.
For its run with the Tobacco Factory, the company leads curious thespians and film enthusiasts through the Temple Meads caves and straight into an ear-splitting fluoro rave party. The line between onlookers and performers is blurred as rowdy scots crawl through the audience, dripping with sweat, adrenaline pumping with every beat. Before the show begins, viewers are led to their seats by Sick Boy, Tommy or Renton as they catch their breath before being sucked back into the music. Onscreen nightclub scenes of the past finally become tangible- it is surprisingly fascinating to sit from afar silently studying the explosive techno euphoria. The distance never becomes too much, audience members still being close enough to receive sweat, spit and emanating heat-waves from time to time.
Trainspotting insults, soils and provokes the audience. What in the real world would offend and profoundly unsettle here heightens the quality of the performance by exciting all five senses of everyone involved, and no one is safe; people having come to just watch the show will leave having fully experienced it. Where Trainspotting triumphs is in its portrayal of such a well-known story, which is completely reimagined on a narrative, technical and artistic level. The production toys with the character dynamic by shifting narrative developments and readjusting the hierarchy.
Gavin Ross truly becomes Renton with no holding back, running through the story at an incredible pace and leading the show with such power, even when shown at his most vulnerable. Every inch of his body and character is scrutinised by the audience, from which he never shies away. His performance is fearless, tenacious and truly gripping. Amidst the thick accents and provocative intentions, spectacle trumps substance at times and meaning does get a bit lost. Diane is not present in the stage adaptation and unfortunately Alison’s narrative here isn’t given enough time or, dare I say, credibility to have as much impact as in the film.
Although every actor displays a similar drive that keeps the pace and excitement at a high, the highlight of the show is Greg Esplin’s Tommy, cleverly reworked and given great importance. The character grounds the show, giving it necessary humility and a true understanding of the repercussions of the depicted way of life. Esplin, who also co-directed the show and founded IYF, delivers a layered and extremely convincing performance. He embodies the rise and fall of the addiction, honouring the original story while creating a new and complex character, heartwarming and heartbreaking in turn.
The script’s reworking of the narrative creates a reflexive performance, with each character taking it in turn to narrate a new chapter of the show’s episodic creation. This allows the creation of a sense of cohesion on stage and an instance of order among the chaos. But surprisingly, it is where the shows aims to sew scenes together clearly and seamlessly that Trainspotting’s weaknesses actually lie. The switches between scenes rely on lighting changes and an extensive brit-pop score. While this does allows clear separation in episodes, at times the aesthetic detracts from the immersive nature of the production, making it feel somewhat jolted and more obviously staged. Equally, although the show’s soundtrack seeks inspiration in all the right places instead of simply borrowing the film’s music, some tracks do seem predictable and a bit easy.
However despite these fairly minor stylistic issues, In Your Face Theatre’s Trainspotting is outstanding. The production as a whole proves its worth as more than a remake and truly testifies how exciting theatre really can be. It is for the most part slick and extremely clever, honouring the well-loved pillars and reworking them too by creating an experience far too big for cinema screens. It may be too loud, too offensive, too edgy, and really too much at times, but the show is aware of its flaws and responds with two fingers. Outrageously visceral and yet incredibly moving, Trainspotting shows everything you did and did not want to see. Despite my best attempts to move on, a week later Trainspotting is showing no sign of leaving my mind. And I’m not sure I want it to.
Originally published on Epigram