Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting has proved to be a surprisingly durable and versatile work. In its original incarnation as a novel it stands comparison with the neglected masterpiece Last Exit To Brooklyn, and it does so because Welsh matches Hubert Selby Jr’s ability to capture the vernacular of the community it speaks for so from amidst the grotesque surrealism of the imagary a harrowing realism emerges.
Its vitality has made it the perfect fodder for stage and screen. With Danny Boyle at the helm, the film exploded off the screen, underpinned by a pulsating soundtrack and electric performances that encapsulated hedonistic spirit of people that knew change was in the air after almost two decades of Conservative rule.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, and certainly appropriately, In Your Face’s production began life at the Edinburgh Festival and the constraints of performing there might explain the 65 minute running time, which is really only just enough time to do justice to the world Welsh created. However Harry Gibson has done an exemplary job in adapting Trainspotting.
Rather than force the whole plot into an hour, Gibson has tightly focused the work around Renton’s journey towards ditching the skag. Other characters interweave in this story and the main beneficiary is in lifting Tommy Laurence so he becomes a central character; in this world, where scales play such a critical role, there must always be balance and so with Renton’s emancipation must come Tommy’s enslavement.
Fans of the film may complain that Begbie is sidelined by these changes but in this immersive staging a little of Chris Dennis’ Begbie goes an awfully long way. It is hard to believe that anyone could get close to Robert Carlyle’s psychopathic creation but Dennis has an added advantage – audience members at which to channel his malice. Even understanding the rules and structure of theatre there were moments when Begbie broke the fourth wall and became a terrifyingly real manifestation in a manner Boyle’s film could never have achieved.
In Your Face have produced an immersive experience that puts to shame many theatre companies working in a similar field; they have not found it necessary to scope out abandoned factories, railway tunnels or old department stores to create their world, rather they have transformed the King’s Head into the down-at-heel world of early 90’s Leith and trusted in their ability to take the audience with them.
We know we are in a theatre and the set is just a representation of a location – we don’t need elaborate sensory experiences to make us believe we are somewhere else, that is what we use our imaginations for – but from the moment we enter to a glowstick-raving cast gurning maniacally to Born Slippy.Nuxx, Ebenezer Goode and Right on Time through to the heartbreaking candlelit ending we are completely immersed in the world they have created.