“Choose life.” You may know the rest of that famous quote from Trainspotting, or, like me, you may be broadly familiar with it without having committed it to memory. It is entirely possible that you may not know it at all. Renton (Gavin Ross, as different from Ewan McGregor’s Renton in the film as chalk is from cheese) hastens to add that he didn’t choose life, whatever choosing life is supposed to [expletive] mean. But this theatrical adaptation has begun even before the iconic monologue. The pre-show comprises a celebratory disco, firmly setting the atmosphere as the audience take their seats.
In the general encouragement to move down to accommodate everyone – the seating allocation is done by section rather than by row and seat number – I found myself sat immediately next to what those familiar with the novel and/or motion picture of Trainspotting to be the theatrical equivalent of “the worst toilet in Scotland”. Without giving too much away, there are aesthetic reasons why it smelt like Bisto. I could have moved as soon as I realised why I had a bit of extra legroom, but then, if I were to partake properly of an immersive experience such as this, I thought I may as well stay put.
Ear plugs were provided free of charge, though this seemed to me to be a gesture included almost solely to satisfy the Health and Safety Executive and other busybody organisations. Not that it wasn’t loud, but it was never uncomfortably so, and I didn’t exactly leave the theatre with ringing in my ears. Of more concern to the audience were breaches of the fourth wall even as the disco / rave continues: the ‘party’ becomes infectious eventually with much of the audience moving in some way to the beat of the music. As the music finally fizzles out and the show proper begins, things either get better or worse, dependent on whether you would say boo to a goose. It is Trainspotting, after all.
But if the film made me uncomfortable, the play made me feel welcome into a world very different from mine. Clearly reimagined for maximum dramatic effect, the audience is, broadly speaking, part of the action, and part of the enjoyment to be had watching the show is in seeing others’ reactions to certain events in the play. The trade off, it almost goes without saying, is that fellow audience members are in turn observing me. It is rare to come across such collective gasping and groaning at various moments at the theatre: the approach taken here provokes a reaction time and time again.
Once the initial shock factor of the Extremely Soiled Bedsheet is over and done with, the near constant crashing and bumping into the audience (lightly, mind you – nobody was carted off on a stretcher to the nearby St Thomas’ Hospital) begins to outlast its welcome. In a set that seldom, if ever, required large items to be moved, the scene changes are as smooth and slick as they could be. The action never stops. And in at least one sense, the play outshines the book: the latter’s Scottish ‘accents’, given through semi-phonetic spellings in the text, were infinitely more impenetrable to me than this sharply voiced cast.
There’s a fair amount of description in places, which heighten the emotional impact of certain scenes, but elsewhere the show can be incredibly physical. I particularly enjoyed a scene involving job interviews – the refreshing honesty of the candidates stood in stark contrast to the blustering, non-committal, almost parliamentarian approach of the interview panel.
Overall, it’s really not for the faint of heart. This hard-hitting and energetic play leaves all exposed, both physically and metaphorically speaking. Not everyone should ‘choose’ it, but I found it exhilarating and very, very memorable.
This punchy, 75 minute production recaptures the passion and the controversy of the famous novel, then globally successful film, and repackages it into an immersive production – the audience are literally part of the show, including the notorious “Worst Toilet in Scotland” scene.
Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting on a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pushing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye’ve produced.
Trainspotting is the story of Mark Renton and his friends, living through the Edinburgh heroin scene of the 80s. Harry Gibson’s original stage adaptation, written before it became the famous blockbuster film, was instantly successful and controversial, and won the Sunday Times Award for Best New Play. For this 21st anniversary production, In Your Face Theatre’s Scottish cast have created a snappy and vibrant affirmation of the power and humour of the piece.
This no-holds-barred immersive, in-yer-face theatre production left Irvine Welsh feeling “blown away” – for avid fans this is a must, and if you’ve never read the book or seen the film: this is your ticket to a ride you won’t soon forget.
Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh
Adapted by Harry Gibson
Duration 75 minutes
Suitable for Ages 16+
• Very strong language
• Violent & sexual nature
• Heavy drug/needle use
Performances at The Vaults, Launcelot Street, London SE1 7AD
Now playing until Sunday 15 January 2017