Having seen Trainspotting at the Edinburgh Festival in 2015, I was delighted to hear that it would be running at the King’s Head Theatre in London, followed by a tour in Birmingham and Bristol. Slightly concerned about how this very Scottish play would be received by a London audience, I took my seat in the Kings Head Theatre and waited. I wasn’t disappointed, this is still one of the most compelling pieces of live theatre I have ever seen.
Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh and later realised in film, the plot is best left to Wikipedia to explain (or, better still, buy the book). Finding myself part of the performance before I’d even taken my seat, as ‘Sandstorm’ by Darude pounded my eardrums, my heart raced at the sight of the underground rave unfolding in front of me. While the energy of every cast member made the air seem electrified.
And then it began, and it didn’t stop…not for one second did any of us have time to pause, collect our thoughts or reflect.
You will not find yourself in a traditional theatre, merely a large room, the space flexed between tenement flat and Edinburgh street with everything in between.
The beauty of these flexible spaces is that you can also see the audience reaction. It was, possibly, the most harrowing scene of the piece. Gavin Ross, as Renton, is perched on a railing right beside me. What I can see is every single member of the audience, every pair of eyes, unblinking, completely focussed and completely drawn in to Ross’s performance.
Some of those eyes are filling with tears, others are dilating in disbelief, but they cannot and dare not look away. And then something incredible happens, mouths start to slowly open, as an audience there is a collective jaw dropping, sharp intakes of breath are heard around the room followed by shocked silence.
Gavin Ross gave every ounce of his soul to that scene, and to the role of ‘Rent Boy’ Renton, a raw and exposed performance that would not be out of place on the biggest of theatre-land stages.
Chris Dennis as ‘Franco’ Begbie literally terrified me, in his first scene I found myself eyeing the nearest exit, mentally calculating my escape route as ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicked in. Only the prospect of having to make a run for it across the stage kept me rooted to my seat, knuckles white.
From ‘Sick Boy’ to ‘Tommy’ to ‘Allison’ the entire cast is exceptional and you’ll find yourself wondering how they keep the pace and energy going without taking a real hit of heroin.
So what was that rare thing I felt as I left? I felt shaken and vulnerable, with tears prickling at the back of my eyes. Shocked, saddened and weakened all at once.
This isn’t a bad thing. Theatre should make you feel something. You shouldn’t just go to observe, you should go to experience and Trainspotting serves it up by the bucket load.