In an bunker below Edinburgh’s George Square, a gruelling baseline thuds. The audience snakes its way down a dingy corridor towards the noise, mingled now with drifting smoke and the smell of sweat. We get a glimpse of the room beyond – a strobe light frames jilting silhouettes. I get a stamp on the wrist as I reach the door, and a split second later, we emerge into a club.
The smell is real, the lights are real, the bodies bouncing and the wet faces gurning are surely real. Aggressive techno beats shake the graffiti-covered walls. What makes this a theatre, rather than a club? Only the audience, filing in and bunching around the edges of the dance-floor. If we stood up as one and leapt into the throng, would anything be left of the illusion?
We don’t, as it happens. We watch politely as the beat gets louder and the dancing gets wilder. Then the music stops and the chaos ensues. Over the course of the next 75 minutes, every possible boundary is broken down, every instinct and thought and action laid bare and unloaded onto the audience, often quite literally.
Trainspotting is an assault on the mind and senses – a dangerously visceral immersion into a world of heroin, violence and the impossibility of escape for a group of Glasgow youths. Somehow, it manages to be funny, warming and kind too. Irvine Welsh’s source material, so iconically scrapbooked by Danny Boyle in 1996, is of an entirely different energy when happening before your eyes. It’s less neat, more unrelenting, and no less difficult to stomach.
The experience – ‘play’ is the wrong word, as is ‘show’ – is the Fringe’s rough diamond, and this year’s must-see as much as it was in 2015. The young cast closes with a plea for the shell-shocked audience to spread the word about Trainspotting ahead of the next leg of its countrywide tour. A punch in the face, coming soon to a city near you.