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Review of Trainspotting at the King’s Head Theatre

Trainspotting at King's Head Theatre LondonAwesome plays can come about in a variety of ways and, in the case of “Trainspotting”, this journey began as a 1993 book many people couldn’t read, followed by a stage adaptation, a Danny Boyle film in 1996 and now a hard hitting, take no prisoners piece of immersive theatre first performed in 2014 and currently at the Kings Head Islington.

I’m not going to give too many details of the plot in this review as “Trainspotting” is a show that needs to be fully experienced in order to appreciate it properly. Basically, this is the story of four young men, addicted to various things, and their interactions with each other, their friends and the wider public who would on the whole cross the road to avoid them. The, for want of a better word, ‘hero’ of the piece is Mark Renton (Gavin Ross) an intelligent, articulate heroin addict who narrates and is at the centre of much of the show. He is the sort of chap that, addiction aside, would probably be accepted in society – once he had the rough edges smoothed out – but he uses his intelligence for the wrong things such as ensuring he doesn’t get regular employment. On the whole Renton is a peace loving chap that just wants his daily fix and has no real qualms about how he gets it. In stark contrast we have Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie (Chris Dennis) who considers the ‘Glasgow Kiss’, or I suppose in his case the ‘Edinburgh Kiss’ as a perfectly acceptable means of saying hello. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of Begbie, let’s be honest, you don’t want to make eye contact with this psycho – as some members of the audience found out – and yet, and he would hate me saying this, there is one moment in the play when he shows a small spark of humanity to his friends. Though ‘friends’ is probably too strong a word. As Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Neil Pendleton) eloquently describes their relationship, it is easier to pretend to like Begbie than tell the truth and suffer the consequences. Finally in this quartet of the great unwashed, there is Tommy Laurence (Greg Esplin), probably the most normal of the boys, he has a girlfriend – with some slightly odd ideas of her own – and although he has tried most of the drugs out in the world, he is no heroin addict.

From the moment we walked through the theatre doors into a loud rave the entire cast dancing frenetically all around, and with lasers and strobe lighting competing with the thump thump thump of the music for our attention, it was fairly easy to assume that this was not going to be a ‘normal‘ night at the theatre. And, we were correct in that assumption. Writer Harry Gibson’s adaption of Irving Welsh’s original book is spot on and thanks to the work of Directors Greg Esplin and Adam Spreadbury-Maher there is no let up in the action from start to finish. In a superb piece of audience manipulation, the mood started off really, pardon the pun, high with some truly gross and at the same time hilarious moments that had us simultaneously reeling with horror and laughing uproariously. As the play progressed, the mood got darker and the atmosphere followed drawing everyone into the stories of the four main protagonists as they sank further and further into their desperate lives. Nothing is held back in “Trainspotting” which if I’m very honest is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that is to the good. There is no way to dramatise the lives of people such as these without showing the truth of their existence – be that their actions, their appearance, their language – no matter how unpalatable.

The four leads and rest of the cast, (Rachael Anderson, Calum Douglas Barbour – a truly despicable Mother Superior – Jessica Innes, Erin Marshall and Callum Verrecchia) deliver a horribly believable performance that is uncomfortable yet compelling and cannot be ignored. The 65 minutes running time is filled with so many memorable moments and manages to educate without preaching. Indeed, if the government really wanted to stamp out drug taking they should make every child see this show to permanently put them off the idea.

I will end this review with, a reader friendly version of Renton’s famous opening rant “Choose a life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers… Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit crushing game shows, stuffing junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away in the end of it all, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, brats you spawned to replace yourself, choose your future. Choose life”. I may not agree with him on all of this but I would add one thing to his list…..choose “Trainspotting” and you won’t go far wrong thanks to this utterly amazing production.
5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Irvine Welsh’s cult generation-defining novel, together with globally successful film, returns to the London stage, transferring directly from a critically received and sell-out Edinburgh Fringe season. In Your Face Theatre’s punchy, 60 minute production recaptures the passion and controversy of Trainspotting and repackages it into an immersive production that will transform the King’s Head Theatre like you’ve never experienced before.

Trainspotting is the story of Mark Renton (played by Gavin Ross) 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, which the Glasgow Herald described as “a vital restaging that suggests that a brand new generation might just be en-route to finding their voice.”

Author Irvine Welsh
Adapted by Harry Gibson
Company In Your Face Theatre and King’s Head Theatre
March 17th 2015 – April 11th 2015
Monday to Saturday, 7pm and 9pm
Saturday matinee, April 11th, 3pm
Running Time 60 mins
King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper St, N1 1QN
Ticket Price £19.50 – £10
Minimum Age 16+ (contains scenes of nudity, strong language, a sexual nature, heavy
Box Office King’s Head Theatre (kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com), 0207 478 0160
Minimum Age 16+ (contains scenes of nudity, strong language, a sexual nature, heavy drug/needle use and claustrophobia)

Saturday 21st March 2015


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