Theatre Review: Trainspotting

Monday 22 February 2016 by

Trainspotting, King's Head Theatre, Play, Production, Gavin Ross

After Niche, I had the incredible pleasure of going to watch Trainspotting at The King’s Head Theatre. A typical London pub, it stands on ground that has been used as a public house since 1543, and crowded and filled with dark wood, coal fires and beer. But out the back is the real treasure – a tiny theatre with only around 150 seats. Famous for its outstanding performances, it nurtures emerging talent and offers up the next big thing in theatreland.

Trainspotting is a small production that has seen critical acclaim from Edinburgh Fringe Festival to London. Created by In Your Face Theatre, it is a totally immersive experience, based on Irvine Welsh’s novel (also made in to the 1996 film starring Ewan McGregor). It tells the story of Mark Renton, played by the charismatic Gavin Ross, and his friends as they navigate the world of raves, drugs and jobseeking.

You know you’re in for something a bit different when you are handed a glow stick with your entrance and ushered through to a dark room filled with smoke, pounding music and strobe lighting. The actors are mid-rave, inviting the audience to join in even as you stumble to your seat (right at the front on the floor as it happens). The audience is sat at three different points, the play itself happening right in the middle of you, and the infamous toilet tucked behind one of the seated areas.

You are instantly transported in to the dark, poetic and visceral language of Welsh’s novel. The play is unrelenting and pitiless, the actors leaping around the small theatre in loud bursts of energy. The whole room fizzes with the force of it, taking your breath away. Renton narrates the fragmentary scenes through the intense drug use, comic skits of sexual encounters and job interviews, ribald Scottish accent invading your consciousness with every expletive. The famous scenes are all there – soggy paper catapulting from the toilet and soiled sheets landing on unsuspecting spectators.

This is not a play for the faint-hearted. With full frontal nudity and various bodily fluids being used as casual props within the first ten minutes, there is something comic and disturbing about the 75-minute long play. It is primitive and intimidating – threatened violence close enough to touch, bewildering overdoses and bitter love scenes at your feet. It demands that you be shocked, ripping you from the comfort of theatre anonymity and plunging you in to the ice-cold depths of pure, high-octane performance. In particular, Begbie’s scenes – played by Chris Dennis, whose monologues are so fast and violent they are both a blur and a wonder – drag you in to the story, as he stands within the crowd and screams expletives in to your ears.

Although it is an intensely streamlined version of both novel and film, leaving out some of the more nuanced scenes, it spotlights the heavier moments complete with bright lights and techno music. It is thrilling, terrifying, explosive. It grabs you and shakes you and leaves you feeling exhausted.

This is not a play I would have chosen to go and see if Gordy hadn’t invited me. Immersive theatre is not for everyone, and for those first few minutes you are left tense and uncertain of what to expect, and fearing stray blood and faeces. But you soon forget your inhibitions and expectations, instead transporting yourself from London theatre to grubby Scottish squats and public toilets. It is poetic, electrifying and chilling – unapologetically so. This play demands admiration and promises to consume the imagination for hours afterwards. One of the best performances I’ve seen in a very long time, it is unforgettable and moving. A play to celebrate.

Tickets start at £15, but there is limited availability so get in quickly!

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Trainspotting, King's Head Theatre, Play, Production, Gavin Ross, Glow stick


Directors: Greg Esplin, Adam Spreadbury-Maher

Producer: Louisa Davis

Cast: Greg Esplin, Gavin Ross, Rachael Anderson, Neil Pendleton, Chris Dennis, Erin Marshall, Calum Douglas Barbour, Calum Verrecchia, Jessica Innes

Playwright: Harry Gibson, based on the novel by Irvine Welsh

Lighting: Tom Kitney

Sound: Hannah Allan

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