Last year marked the 20th anniversary of Irvine Welsh’s debut novel, Trainspotting. The story is about a bunch of junkies and a violent alcoholic. It was initially a cult book, was then a successful stage play and eventually was adapted into a blockbuster film starring Ewan McGregor. The first theatre production of Trainspotting took place in Edinburgh in 1994 and it has since gone on to win awards and audiences alike with various adaptations over time. The latest version comes courtesy of Black Box Theatre and Emu Productions. They’re presenting the Sydney premiere, which is based on Harry Gibson’s original, gritty stage play which looks set to become another cult favourite.
Trainspotting is not a story for the faint-hearted or easily offended. At King Street Theatre in Newtown, the audience were warned of the coarse language, violence and adult themes that is found in this confronting, abrasive and controversial production. This current adaptation is directed by Luke Berman (Playmates, Proof) and is heavily focused on the original stage performance rather than the novel or film (although the movie’s two most infamous scenes involving the toilet and the dead baby are brought here to intense, horrific life).
The cast is led by Damien Carr (A Glass Menagerie, Everynight Everynight), who plays the unemployed anti-hero, Mark Renton, plus some minor cameos. Carr proves to be engaging and charming as the primary storyteller and he is joined by a versatile cast. Taylor Beadle-Williams (Amnesia, Plans, The Crucible) plays every major female role while Leigh Scully (Home & Away, Rescue Special Operations) is Franco Begbie, Johnny Swan and Mrs Renton. Brendon Taylor (Antony & Cleopatra, As You Like It) also plays the callous Sick Boy, the unhinged Tommy Murphy and Morag “Jam Rag” Henderson.
The actors keep the mood electric, crisp and charged as they are forced to alternate between roles at the drop of a hat. They are convincing (both with their acting and Scottish accents). One minor issue on opening night however, was that there were a couple of fumbles over some difficult lines and a couple of problems with malfunctioning props (although the actors did brilliantly to keep pace when things went wrong).
This adaption features a series of brave vignettes that share the same consistent and focused energy on the junkie characters, their associates and most importantly, their dark lives. The story is in part narrated and it has some of the same witty, stream-of-conscious-style quotes that Welsh had originally penned. A case in point is the brilliant soliloquy: ‘Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family… I chose not to choose life. I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin”’.
The set is very stark and minimal and is fitting when you consider the story’s depressed, economic setting (the 1980s in Edinburgh). A bed is used in the second part as a place of withdrawal as well as a coffin and there are also milk crates, the famed toilet and a graffiti-filled door. The background proves as confronting and gloomy as the actual tale. The use of music is also good. It’s occasionally used when the characters are taking trips and lends the proceedings a spaced-out, hypnotic feel, while at other moments songs like Blondie’s “Atomic”, Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” help create an excellent mood.
Over the years the Trainspotting book, film and play has divided critics as it is brutal, fearless and hell-bent on creating horror and destruction. This adaptation also manages to achieve this and is intense, raw and eye-opening. Not for the young or faint-hearted, Trainspotting looks at the difficulties of boredom and the tragedy of self-medication, addiction and poverty, while showing us how our choices can result in things that are like a cold, hard punch to the face.
Trainspotting plays at the King St Theatre, Newtown until May 24