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Theatre review: Trainspotting Live

Trainspotting might be one of the biggest cult classics of the 20th century, but only the most ardent fans of Danny Boyle’s smash hit film, or Irvine Welsh’s original novel, would truly want to rub shoulders with its tortured, damaged characters. With that being said, it is a little surprising that an immersive theatre adaptation has proved to be such a success – and what better time to sample it myself than with this Friday’s release of Boyle’s cinematic follow up: T2 Trainspotting.

Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s production truly looks the part, and it is no exaggeration to say that I felt a part of the action from the moment I took my seat. This is not a show for the faint of heart, and from before the performance has even started in earnest, the audience are plunged headfirst into the chaotic, dingy, narcotics fuelled existences of its protagonists.

Much of the script seems to have been lifted from Welsh’s original novel, a brutal and darkly comic tale of a group of friends, both united and ultimately torn apart by their shared love of heroin.

The likes of Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle are a hard act to follow, but if anything the cast here manage to be even more hilariously unhinged than their cinematic counterparts. An unflinching, ludicrously slapstick scene early on sets the tone for a sequence of early scenes that – provided you can decipher the thick Scottish accents – deliver a surprisingly light hearted glimpse at the lives of Renton, Sick Boy and co.

The laughs come thick and fast – almost as fast as the audible grimaces that were perhaps inevitable from the up close and personal (in every sense of the phrase!) staging. If you want my advice – avoid the front row and have your dinner after the performance!

As you will know if you’re familiar with the story, or can guess with even the vaguest knowledge of the subject matter, the plot’s second half comes with decidedly more sombre overtones. The difference is such that it would come across as jarring, were it not for the brilliantly committed performances of Greg Esplin, Erin Marshall, a Carlyle channelling Chris Dennis and Gavin Ross, who while a far cry from Ewan McGregor’s interpretation of anti-hero Mark Renton, delivers a raw, believable and intense performance.

As a prelude to T2, this will get you vaguely up to speed with Irvine Welsh’s brilliantly depraved world - aside from the unfortunate, if understandable absence of series mainstay Spud, whose more memorable scenes are shared between Renton and Tommy. Really though, Trainspotting Live is a truly standalone experience and should be enjoyed as such. Arguably as inventive as Danny Boyle’s cinematic adaptation, its most memorable moments are too good to be spoiled in a review. This a must see for any strong stomached fans of innovative and challenging theatre.

Trainspotting begins a 4 night run at the Pentland Theatre, London N12 on Tuesday 9th May.

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