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Review: Trainspotting @ The Edinburgh Fringe

This review was originally written for EdFringeReview.com

In Your Face Theatre, predictably, are big fans of in-yer-face theatre, the immersive, aggressive style of production that blossomed in the nineties. It’s hard to imagine a novel better suited to such treatment than Irvine Welsh’s cult classic Trainspotting, a blistering set of short stories chronicling the lives, loves and labours of a group of heroin addicts in Leith. In Your Face have taken Harry Gibson’s 1994 stage adaptation and created a searing, gritty, wholly unpleasant and brilliantly funny piece of theatre.

Staged in a dingy basement with sweary graffiti scrawled on its concrete walls, a shapeless sofa, and the audience crouched and cowering on the concrete floor, Trainspotting is most certainly not for the faint-hearted. This is a loud, energetic, and thoroughly engaging show. Sex, violence, drug use – often involving needles – and scenes of a decidedly soiled nature all feature heavily, seizing the audience’s attention and refusing to let it go for a breathless 75 minutes.

The cast narrate throughout, hovering around the edge of the set, their rough Scottish voices echoing off the walls. Gavin Ross takes the lion’s share of the spotlight as Renton, our staggering, syringe-wielding anti-hero, whose heroin addiction gets him into some truly horrendous situations – waking up in a shit-spoiled bed in an unfamiliar house, diving into a dilapidated toilet to retrieve some suppositories, crippled by the agony of a come-down. The juxtaposition of hilarity and pathos in these situations is tremendously distilled in a powerful, and extremely likeable performance from Ross. He is supported by a host of similarly convincing characters; the straighter-laced Tommy (Greg Esplin) and the psychotic Begbie (Chris Dennis) amongst the most memorable.

Tommy’s gradual descent into addiction forms the centre-piece of the latter stages of the play, as events take a noticeably darker turn. Gone are the disgusting, but highly amusing, escapades of a drug-addled Renton; they are replaced by harrowing realities of heroin: cot-death, disease, extreme violence. These are mostly handled with the same furious intensity, but when brief moments of calm arrive – such as when a distraught mother (Erin Marshall) quietly weeps on the cold floor at the premature demise of her neglected baby – they only serve to isolate and emphasise the horror of the situation.

From its opening, when the dancing glowsticks of a thumping rave light up the set, to its conclusion, when a blue-veined, red-eyed Tommy lies shivering on the soiled sofa, Trainspotting is a grungy, grimy delight. It’s horrible to watch at times – the frequent shooting-up scenes, narrated in horrific detail, are squeamish to say the least – but that is kind of the point. This is a horrible play. But it is also a brilliant one.

4/5

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