Trainspotting Live shines during its most dangerous moments. It puts you on edge throughout, wondering if this should even be allowed in theatre.

Directors Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin have pitched Trainspotting Live at just the right level of anarchic pleasure-seeking and tender selfishness. This adaptation from Harry Gibson is far closer to Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel than it is to Danny Boyle’s 1996 movie – more sporadic, sectional and grittier. It’s very rare that you see members of the public so enthusiastic to have ‘excrement’ flung at them, but this shows just how worthy Trainspotting Live is of all its success.

Walking into a ‘club’, the production immediately invites you to join this party of the damned – with your drink of choice and glowing wristband, it is hard not to feel the atmosphere quickly becoming infectious. This works just as well narratively as it does as a strong visual device; audience members are constantly aware of each other, even when plunged into darkness and especially when the play takes on a more threatening note. We very quickly become painfully aware of our own vulnerability, a heightened intersubjective experience that works brilliantly at keeping everyone engaged throughout.

Trainspotting Live The Vaults

(Image courtesy of Geraint Lewis)

Trainspotting Live focuses on the effect that drug culture has on a down-and-out youth generation, where disenfranchisement is kept at bay by the minute to minute drive for stimulus. This drive propels the characters forward and inevitably destroys them in the end. Some, like Begbie (Chris Dennis) and Sick Boy (Andrew Still), are harbingers of this dystopian, destructive world; others like Alison (a spine-tingling performance by Erin Marshall) and Tommy (Finlay Bain) are swept towards disaster by it. The production is very well balanced between these two extremes and effectively uses its central character Renton (Frankie O’Connor) as both a participant and voyeur.

The themes of youth disenfranchisement within the narrative are particularly relevant to today’s generation without re-hashing the same old story. Unlike the film, graphic images that express bad trips, or attempts to abstain from drug use, take a back seat and make way for a harrowing rendition of Tommy’s entrance into drug addiction. We learn that these pleasure-seekers detest the journey, but have to stomach it in order to reach their ‘happy’ place.

Trainspotting Live The Vaults

Andrew Still & Frankie O’Connor (Image courtesy of Geraint Lewis)

Trainspotting Live shines during its most dangerous moments – characters swing snooker cues a little too close to your face; actors jump naked from the stage into the audience; characters are physically intimidating and aggressive to members of the public. Particular mention here for Dennis – pity to anyone who is sitting in the front row when he makes his entrance. There is an enduring sense that Spreadbury-Maher and Esplin are trying to see how far they can push what is acceptable when it comes to audience interaction. They push very, very hard.

Trainspotting Live The Vaults

Chris Dennis (Image courtesy of Geraint Lewis)

The only immediate downside to Trainspotting Live is that, despite the lengths this production goes in forcing you to experience its world, all immersive engagement is broken when the cast come to receive their applause. The act of participating in experiential theatre (and therefore blurring the boundary between theatrical and real world realities) anti-climactically reminds us that we have been watching a play – these are actors, the effects are fake and we are in no real danger after all.

But apart from that, the show really is a unique theatrical experience. It puts you on edge throughout, presenting a visual language that will leave you wondering if it should even be allowed in theatre. Yes, it absolutely should. And we need more work like it.




Trainspotting Live runs at The Vaults until 3 June 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.