"Trainspotting: Smack, Crack and Pop"
by Cameron Dunham for remotegoat on 22/03/19

Tower Theatre’s relocation to Stoke Newington seems strangely apt for a production of “Trainspotting”. After all, “Stoke Newington Blues” was a short story in “The Acid House”, Irvine Welsh’s follow up to his debut and whilst the feral skag-heads of that particular story have now largely been replaced by yummy mummies, there’s still an air of serendipity to this production.

And what a production it is: Glaswegian director, James McKendrick, has done his level best to keep proceedings north of Hadrian’s Wall with a cast that’s at least fifty percent Scottish and a bespoke tailored soundtrack that chimes with the context of the narrative. The “in the round” set resembles a level of Dante’s Inferno relocated to a grimy, Edinburban hell-hole and the cast prowl and growl around the circumference of their space with the savagery of starving predators. This is a white-knuckle ride that is not for the faint hearted.

For those of you who are familiar with the film, and not the novel or Harry Gibson’s play script, there are some enjoyable differences. We dispense with the rather ludicrous foray to London and the clumsy parallel between estate agency and drug dealing. Instead, our story is largely comprised of a sequence of monologues. These chaotically excavate the squalid lives and interactions of the embryonic underclass of smack addicted Leith and dovetail into an altogether better, if desperate, arc. Don’t worry, though, all your favourite scenes are still present and correct: dead baby? Check! Spraying mum and dad with sheets soaked in effluence? You got it! Disgusting toilet scene? Most. Disgusting. Toilet. Scene. EVER! Whilst all the “Trainspotting” tropes from Danny Boyle’s film are here, it’s the scenes that fans of the film won’t be familiar with that could provide the most entertainment. The funeral of Renton’s brother shocks just as much as any of the film’s infamous moments and Begbie’s final encounter in Leith Central Station is a pivotal moment which throws essential light on his psychosis. We still don’t like him, though.

“Trainspotting” is so over the top, on paper, that most productions fail to exercise the restraint required to avoid it falling into grotesque parody. McKendrick’s cast tread this fine track mark with admirable aplomb. Firstly, their accents are so uniformly excellent that it’s impossible to tell who’s actually Scottish and who’s putting it on; no mean feat. Secondly, this is a great, ensemble cast; there really isn’t a weak link amongst them. Ryan Williams steps out of Robert Carlisle’s shadow before the play has even started, possessing a leaner and meaner physicality and portraying an altogether more believable and familiar estate nutcase. Clad in gray Farrahs and Pringle jumper, every detail of this performance is just right; I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Paul Graves imbues Renton with the modicum of heart needed to make his numerous transgressions all the more unpleasant and Graves deserves recognition for being utterly convincing whilst spending a significant amount of stage time in just his underpants. Ben Kynaston pulls a double shift as hapless Tommy and Sick Boy; he delivers both with an impressive emotional range and, again, brings a physicality to his roles that helps to hammer home the stark HIV message. Rebecca Allan’s Alison manages the near impossible as she wins the audience over with her re-telling of the worst kitchen nightmare imaginable and there’s a wide-eyed wildness to her spirited performance which makes for compelling viewing. Alexander Gordon Wood brings a little gravitas to proceedings as drug guru Johnny Swan and it is a credit to his deft timing that he brings a comedic element to limb amputation. As the senior member of the cast, he brings a refreshing contrast but don’t think that this means his performance is at all lacking in energy. Alisa Dann manages to rival the schemey ferocity of Begbie in her portrayal of Liz; she’s all scraped back pony tail, whiplash tongue and tight jeans; you just know that she’s going to be a handful before she even opens her mouth. Dann also pulls a double shift as Diane and dropping a little of her hard as nails poison into the potentially sweet and innocent school girl role is unsettling, convincing and, of course, entertaining. Each member of the cast gets several moments to shine via the aforementioned monologues but there’s no showboating or scene-stealing when they perform together; they are individually and collectively impressive.

“Trainspotting” is always a hard watch. There are plenty of moments that are not for the squeamish but if you are a fan of the book, the film, or just interested to see what all the fuss is still about, this is most definitely a show that you will not want to miss.

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