Theatre review: Trainspotting LIVE at the Mayfield, Manchester

Context

Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting hit the cinemas when I was a touch too young to see it. I still went anyway. I was equally terrified and mesmerised by its visceral grim reality of the highs and lows of drug addiction in the Edinburgh hinterlands. It made its mark and in some ways mirrored the self destructive journey I was on.

A couple of years later, piss wet through and freezing cold, we were at the main stage of the Reading Festival dutifully waiting for the shambles of Ian Brown fronting some version of The Stone Roses to appear. Eventually, as his knackered tones rumbled across the field, we gave up and headed back to our tent.

We passed the dance area just as Underworld’s Born Slippy, Trainspotting’s anthem that celebrated rebirth amidst grime, roared its warmth towards us. It stung to not be in that tent, arms raised and with sweat pouring down my face, dancing that elixir of a song. It was a signature of club life back then.

Trainspotting LIVE

Years later and now somewhat sensible, the themes of Irvine Welsh’s book and the later film have always stayed with me; vulnerability, addiction, poverty of hope, loss and…eventual optimism. It captures a time in the mid nineties, before the rise of “New Labour”, when the country was still reeling from the decimation to communities caused by Thatcherism and the later recession.

I love the film, the book and now, the stage play. Has it transferred well? Yes, exceptionally. 

The highly successful stage adaption by Harry Gibson, written before the film was made, captures the heart of Welsh’s book. Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher with Greg Esplin, the production features a small cast of the key characters; Renton, Begbie, Spud, Sick Boy, Tommy and Diane.

At the Mayfield

Set within the underbelly of the Mayfield depot, it is an appropriately dark and chilly setting for an immersive play. The experience begins from the moment you arrive with your ticket exchanged for a glo-stick bracelet, as you enter a dance music infused bar area, through to the club like stage space.

It is a suitably spare set with the audience sat either side of a long gangway, a grimy bed to one end and a sofa at the other. Lighting is dark and gloomy, punctuated by strobes and flashes of harsh daylight reality to match the peaks and troughs of the exceptional soundtrack.

The cast manage lightning fast costume changes to portray the other characters in the story. This evening,  Dean Gribble was Renton and he perfectly balanced the vulnerable sweetness of a hopeless young man with his drug induced selfishness. The whole cast are strong – Lauren Downie, Greg Esplin, Michael Lockerbie and Olivier Sublet.

Trainspotting Live is an involving production and if you remember the post drug binge defecation scene, the worst toilet in Scotland and the endless drinking then you’ll have an inkling for how the audience may unwittingly get involved. And they do, so wear appropriately lesser loved clothing.

This loud, fast paced and highly sensory production relies on its ensemble of highly talented and energetic actors who are skilled enough to change the temperature in the room from high octane excess to chasm lows of devastating loss. Imagine a sinister merry-go-round bathed in blurred light, swirling to dance music played at just the wrong speed. It is beautiful, funny, jarring and chilling.

Trainspotting is well over 20 years old but the social conditions that spawned it have cycled around again. As research shows, poverty is rising across the UK in the context of a palpable undercurrent of anxiety about the future. Trainspotting is still highly relevant.

I don’t really write reviews for everything I see or hear, only the ones I enjoyed, and I really enjoyed this. 

Trainspotting Live is on tour and currently running at the Mayfield in Manchester until 21 April 2019. It’s then in Corby from 23-27 April and at the Edinburgh Fringe from 1-26 August.

For more information see trainspottinglive.com.

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