"sex, drugs, shock and dole"
by Cameron Dunham on 04/03/14

It must be intimidating to put on a production of “Trainspotting” when the film of the nineties still enjoys so much cultural currency. To be fair, this version, currently running at Camden’s Lord Stanley, bravely steers clear of the lighter and more redeemable aspects of Danny Boyle’s movie and plants itself more firmly in the offensive and shocking territory of Irvine Welsh’s original novel. In doing this, the play has some success but don’t expect a pleasant night out at the theatre: this is Trainspotting boiled down to its barest and most unpleasant ingredients.

Without Welsh’s overt, structural, stylistic touches and his skill at dialectical vernacular, this version of Trainspotting is altogether more bludgeoning and, at times, confusing: the cast’s accents span the length of the United Kingdom and, with references being made to Camden and, of course, Edinburgh, the setting of the play is unclear; a scene where the characters take ecstasy is staged rather chaotically and felt a little obvious. I quite liked some of the more experimental touches, however: replacing the iconic soundtrack of the film with Sepultura may not be a popular choice with many but I’d guess the third world, Brazilian thrashers know more about the world of destitute junkies than the likes of Underworld...

Most of the key, grisly moments in the play are told via monologue from various members of the cast who, accents aside, are uniformly excellent. Mike Archer delivers the role of Renton with conviction and ease at whatever heart this play has but Hannah Keeley, playing Alison, stole the second act with a performance that captured the essence of a haunted addict. I also enjoyed Simon Wan’s first half portrayal of a cheeky wide boy who falls into the embrace of heroin via a broken heart but I wasn’t so convinced by his second half spell as a fully fledged junkie suffering with HIV; he just looked too damn healthy!
There are a few contextual updates in this version of Trainspotting. The second half opens with the aftermath of the funeral of Renton’s brother, who has been killed on active service in Iraq. Whilst this was interesting, I found that it added to my overall confusion about the setting and context of this version: why update the play to the noughties if Franco Begbie is still dressed like a mid-nineties soccer casual? Why update the play at all? Archer delivers this extended monologue superbly but I felt that aspects of this scene, more than any other, were gratuitous and nasty, simply for the sake of it.

Camden is a good spot to see a production of Trainspotting. It doesn’t take too much imagination to project what you see on stage to the streets and tower blocks around you. In nearby Camden Town you can still see evidence of the heroin chic Danny Boyle’s film helped to popularise but you’ll see precious little of that in director Shaban Arifi’s version; this attempts a glimpse into a world that you hope no longer exists. Happy viewing!

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