Trainspotting Live|Review

January 31, 2018

First published on


Trainspotting Live | Theatre Review

Waterfront Studio Hall, Belfast • Tuesday 30 January ’18

By Elizabeth McGeown

Staff members offer around earplugs just before audience members make their way into In Your Face Theatre’s production of Trainspotting Live and if this is your first clue that tonight is going to be loud, you really haven’t been paying attention. Loud is the least of your worries anyway. Wristbands are glowsticks which colour code us for the evening, green banded folks breathing a sigh of relief when they get taken to chairs set back from the ‘stage’ that divides the auditorium down the middle: a rave where each cast member chews their face to the sounds of Bronski Beat and Baby D perfectly in character. We’re in a rectangular, black space, a bare-mattressed single bed at one end and a sofa complete with duvet at the other. Nothing else until we glance behind and realise we’ve been placed in front of the ‘Worst Toilet In Scotland’. It’s rude to move when you’ve actually been deliberately placed in your seat by a heroin addict though, so everyone stays put. We’re not completely sure who is who yet, apart from Sickboy’s recognisable shock of bleached blonde hair everyone else could be… anyone until one climbs a platform behind us menacingly and roars a garbled spout of obscenities and we know instinctively that this is Begbie. He spits. This will not be the last time he does so.

Red glowstick folks are less lucky, or perhaps luckier, depending on your way of looking at it. They’re taken to benches either side of the rave, perhaps one foot off the ground and huddle up for comfort and protection, body language becomes tighter when it becomes clear that ‘In Your Face’ literally means any character could be in your face at any moment, making eye contact, seeking assertion, a kiss or simply the correct answer which will make Chris Dennis’ Begbie put away his flick knife. No-one is completely safe though, both red and green spaces are invaded with abandon as the cast weave in and out, narrating each other’s actions.

Harry Gibson’s stage adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel has been cut from a Godfather-esque two hours and 40 minutes. Artistic Direction team Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin have whittled to create a frantic race of a play, a 75 minute disorientating blur that speeds up as it approaches the climax. It’s a series of vignettes, each one slightly less comic than the last until death and intravenous drug use are depicted on stage, the cast moaning and scrabbling around for their next fix. But the comedy is glorious, Frankie O’Connor’s Renton washing himself after an unfortunate nocturnal emission gives us that theatre rarity: full frontal male nudity made even more lascivious by his hip-thrusting wriggle that’s not strictly necessary when drying after a shower. “Eyes up!”, he admonishes a man in the crowd and we laugh in sympathy, not knowing where the person’s eyes were but knowing it could be any of us next time. We’re in a hostage situation.

Those expecting a carbon copy of the film will be disorientated in other ways. The character of Spud is not present at all, his most memorable moments are divided between Renton and Finlay Bain’s Tommy; the job interview showing Tommy’s innocent first use of speed which helps to highlight his rapid descent into heroin later on. Andrew Still’s Sickboy is reduced to a grinning, leering ghoul, often trailing behind Begbie. This makes his high emotion on his daughter’s death in the latter half of the play less moving for the audience, although no less excellently-acted. Music – which was almost a character in itself in the movie – is incidental and not as powerful in this stage adaptation, choosing to focus more on dialogue and viscera except for perhaps the most powerful scene soundtracked by Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ when Tommy’s demons march vocally behind him in the strobe-lit dark, reducing him to a shell.

Irvine Welsh has said he was “blown away” by the production. Maybe you will be too. Take our advice though, and don’t leave your drink where someone can wash their faeces-stained fingers in it. Trainspotting Live runs until Saturday 3 February.


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