When a company is daring enough to pick out a member of the audience and arrogantly prod him in the forehead with a pool-cue, the chances are they’ve come up with something special. Courtesy of Begbie (Chris Dennis), of knuckleduster mentality, this moment of audience interference will seem like (admittedly uncomfortable) foreplay, or bar crawl bravado: delightfully alien to its (mostly) middle class audience of course but comparatively weaker to some of the shit that the cast of Trainspotting dish out. I won’t go into too much detail – that would ruin the fun – but I will say that it’s hilarious, especially if you’re looking from a distance.
Much of Trainspotting’s appeal is down to the talking-talent of its cast: a quick-witted response to one member of the audience who had chatted through most of the first half earned midway applause and plenty of laughs. So they certainly bring the banter. But they also bring the bangers. Held underneath the city, the performance is buried away like a secret segment of Edinburgh’s history which would be worth forgetting about if anyone could remember it. And as the audience queues up to witness the 90s in deafening force, the dance anthems which illuminated the gurning faces of the age fill the pit with enough energy to rival EDF. Marking the audience’s place amid a hazy rave, glow-sticks are handed out at the entrance and for 10 minutes, you can relax while listening to the background, underground, all-around music. If that’s your thing.
If it’s not, then Trainspotting might not be playing to your beat, but is sure to set the bar high when it comes to telling a story. The hugely likeable and ballsy Gavin Ross as Renton shows off a considerable depth of character: shifting between a variety of moronic, hardened and strangely responsible states. Commenting on most events, he takes hold of the plot like an angry bouncer: ready to throw it out into full light, and kick it into action if necessary. The audience quickly learns to laugh with and at their tour guide and his cohort, who make complete use of the basement-stage; actors leaping across rows of the audience and revelling in the light. Reddened eye-sockets tell all: this effervescent tenacity doesn’t just come from anywhere and soon these truncated scenes fall away into a nervously prescient scramble for drugs, overshadowed by the difficulty of withdrawal.
Fragments of dialogue are wrenched from earlier parts of the play, and wash over Tommy (Greg Esplin) in one head-crunching scene as the coterie of characters encircle him like rambling, shark-faced shadows; expelled only by the blinding light which comes with another hit of heroin. And few can hit harder than this drug: numbing the senses of the junkies until the inevitable wanders in and knocks them all to the ground, in that darkest of moments transposed from the book. Erin Marshall is outstanding as the mother of an innocent victim, writhing and screaming into the concrete floor while Renton and the others look around dumbfounded, searching for words of comfort that simply don’t exist.
With a brilliantly honest script, from the 1994 adaptation by Harry Gibson, lending huge space to high-octane acting, this play does about as much justice to Irvine Welsh’s novel as is tolerable to witness in the flesh. By its conclusion, the only name that should resound, is the one which was stamped onto your wrist at the beginning: the inimitable In Your Face Theatre will get right inside your head.