Trainspotting Live

I was splashed by a wet condom and had a shite covered naked arse within touching distance.

Trainspotting Live
Trainspotting Live

Choose life.

Choose theatre.

Choose Trainspotting Live.

In 1993, Harry Gibson wrote the stage adaption of Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel about heroine, addiction and AIDS in Edinburgh in the late 1980s. It’s said that this adaption inspired Danny Boyle’s 1996 film adaption of Trainspotting.

I’m having trouble believing that it’s been 21 years since Underworld’s “Born Slippy. NUXX” – shouting larger, larger, larger – became an anthem. Being given a glow stick and walking into a dark room pumping with music and people dancing in a way that you could feel though the floor felt so familiar that I’m still wondering why no one offered me a pill.

Not that you need anything to exaggerate In Your Face Theatre’s unrelenting in-your-face, get-out-the-way, hey-that’s-my-beer-ya-cunt experience of Trainspotting Live.

It’s directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and the founder of In Your Face, 23-year-old Greg Esplin, who also plays Tommy. The Edinburgh-based company don’t believe in actor/audience separation and want the audience to forget they are watching a show. They say on their website, “If you want to move out of the way, or move even closer to the action (if you don’t mind us breathing down your necks) then feel free, but be warned, you might not want to get too close to some of our characters.”

With a packed audience around and on the fortyfivedownstairs basement-level performance space, it’s difficult to move out the way, no matter how much you might want to. This is a story about the pish, shite and puke side of addiction, and protagonist Mark Renton does visit the worst toilet in the world and needs to retrieve his suppositories.

It’s positioning in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is curious, but for all its pain, violence and misery, it’s directed to let us laugh. As humans, we laugh when everything about a situation isn’t funny or we hit rock bottom. It’s how we cope when there isn’t another emotion left.

Welsh’s book is a series of short stories that form a narrative about interacting characters. It’s written from different points of view and often phonetically, so that sometimes the only way to understand it is to read it out loud and hear yourself speaking in the kind of bad Scottish accent that would get you beaten up by most of the book’s characters. The film moved the story into the 1990s and found its own narrative among the stories. The play – this version is also in the 1990s – takes a narrative approach more similar to the book but has also taken its own path (don’t expect to see Diane or Spud).

One of the many absolute joys of the Trainspotting Live is hearing parts of the book verbatim. The narration is shared among the characters who narrate as they participate so the it never feels distancing.

On his website, Welsh talks about seeing the first production in 1994. “Seeing my words performed by actors had a big impact on me … I was still really reeling from being published and people were on the phone trying to cut film deals. I was thinking: ‘it’s only my scabby wee book, what the fuck is all the fuss about?’ It was when I saw them doing their lines, the whole thing was removed from my head into the world, and I saw it for the first time how others were experiencing it. I felt the power of it for the first time. I walked out there believing that I had actually done something special. I knew it would be a great play.”

It is a great play and the cast are the children of those who were part of the Trainspotting generation – they were wee bairns like Dawn. They confront with bleakness, desperation and anger but always lead from the vulnerable fear that really motivates the characters. It’s hard to hate someone when you know their abhorrent behaviour is the only choice they understand.

Trainspotting Live
Trainspotting Live

Esplin, Rachael Anderson, Calum Barbour, Chris Dennis, Michael Lockerbie, Erin Marshall and Gavin Ross have been performing this show in the UK and Australia for months and are so tone-perfect tight that they are now the people I picture when I read the book.

So fuckin’ book now, ya cunts.

And if language bothers you, here’s what Gibson said in an interview in Spike magazine in 2006: “Spotting is everywhere now. In fact language is a big part of Trainspotting’s appeal. People write dissertations about it. The play has 147 cunts. In Edinburgh housing schemes, I explain to people, cunt is a laddish term of endearment. You can say “Y’cunt-ye” to a mate and it’s quite cuddly. You would not call a vagina a cunt; a vagina is (excuse my language) a f*n*y. “

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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