Trainspotting – Stellar production reignites the novel over the film. (Theatre Review)
16-26 January 2019
Limelight on Oxford – You can grab your tickets here.
Production Shots: Emma Wright
In contemporary zeitgeist, Trainspotting has come to define the generation after its characters and their relationship to the Danny Boyle film. See this exemplified in book tours Irvine Welsh makes alongside Chuck Palahniuk whose epic tome Fight Club equally became an era defining film. Fitting these two writers into a room together would be like a tour with Jane Austen and Emily Bronte or Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Franz Kafka; The legend becomes larger than the work and a social engineering of sorts takes place in societies relationship to literature. While Chuck Palahniuk tries to assert the existential core of Fight Club, the book and subsequent film have been appropriated by a white male minority claiming it is a protest against a capitalistic tendency to feminize males. Trainspotting, on the other hand sees females and males as equally subjugated under Capitalism and women further subjugated under patriarchy and is essentially a punk novel. The astute observer will note it is the novels differences (despite Trainspotting notably publishing three years earlier and its plain influence) that make both more interesting, than their similarities. Because both appeal to angry young men, Welsh and Palahniuk were squashed into book stores and blog chats together. However, it is in the theatrical presentation of Trainspotting the true nature of the novel and its protagonists come to life, leaving the political taming American’s inevitably inflict off to the side.
First performed in the 1990s then and adapted by Harry Gibson, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting becomes an established voice of the ‘In yer Face’ theatrical cannon that called forth a new style of engagement with theatre. It turns out the vignettes and subtleties of the book lend themselves to a naturalism absent from the film. Irvine Welsh’s tales of the post-Thatcher drug addled drop outs connects with the audience and connects heavily to the transference of the left wing from economic subversion to subset empowerment and the clarion call for a different voice. Trainspotting the play resonates far more with Mike Leigh’s Naked than David Fincher’s Fight Club, which occurs as a masturbatory self-help film by comparison. There is something very different about witnessing the (infamous) ‘worst toilet in Scotland’ upon an intimate stage than through the sanitised safety of the passive film experience.
This particular production of Trainspotting the play by GradCo Studio and directed by Simon Thomson is a superb incarnation of this (as it turns out) complicated representation. Performed by young people (graduates from the Sydney theatre school) the cast exemplify the age and decaying vitality of the protagonists. Under the direction of Simon Thomson, a gently stirring awareness of theatre as is its own form of addiction pervades the room, and a solidarity with characters form. The play directs our connection with disenfranchised drug addicts in the suburbs of Edinburgh and are metonymically transferred into an image of an entire nation. The problems of the affected young adults of Trainspotting have their origins in the politics of the conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher in the 1990s and this becomes become both the product and representation of a nation. The Scotland of Simon Thomson (on a 2019 Sydney Stage) is a meeting point of different subcultures that form their identities in relation to each other. These subcultures form a tension that provides a contrast as well. It in in this understanding that the theatre audience become part of the underlying tension of what makes Trainspotting so potent. Even the book can’t place readers next to each other in a room – something the play can achieve.
For this particular production The Limelight Room has been transformed into a simple space identified mostly by its graffiti and sparse production values that form a vast wasteland. Emphasis from the director is on performance and the detail and attention to this shows. Adam Colledge is a stellar Mark Renton who rises comfortably above the comparisons to his famous film predecessor. Embodying the definition of Renton’s cultural crises, Adam Colledge humanises Renton beyond the clumsy cool of the film to a man with a genuine existential problem to solve. We feel the horror of the choice Renton is forced to make and we properly understand why a life addicted to heroin might be a viable choice when compared with a world controlled by neo-liberals. An equally strong performance from Jayden Muir as Alison provides balance and potency against the blokishness of the plotting in general. Her performance is so strong, she elevates her character above the buddies of Renton to bring a much-needed female horror story to the fore.
However, in the strong arms of Simon Thomson, every character in the cast shines strong. Minor details like accents and costuming are produced with above the average skill for a young production company, making the entire performance a noteworthy one. The Limelight on Oxford space is properly transformed and provides the much needed intimacy to bring the personal dread to the fore. For those of us who love Trainspotting, either the book or the film, revisiting the dark times of Irvine Welsh’s lively characters on the stage will be thrilling. For those of us (like myself) who love the book and feel the film has lost much of what was great about the novel, you will be pleased to note this production reclaims the time and place stolen from the film such that its original protest spirit is brought alive. Considering we are well into the aftermath of the neo-liberal take over, and Thatcherism is alive and well, it will be a disturbing connection to the time when we watched the life we took for granted slipping between our fingers.
Please note: This is a difficult production to watch. It contains disturbing adult themes. It’s worth it – don’t leave at interval – but go out for a cathartic chat after.
“The lowest of the fuckin low, the scum of the earth”: Identity and Image in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting.”