Review – Trainspotting, In Your Face Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe, Hill Street Drama Lodge, Edinburgh, 8th August 2014

Entering the auditorium for Trainspotting is like entering the great unknown. You’re suddenly part of a black box, there are no visual clues as to where you are or who else is in there, just the intense rhythm of a rave. It’s overpowering, disturbing, disconcerting. You might join in with the dancing, as some of the fellow ravers encourage. Or you might retreat to the safety of the wall. Participate, or observe. What kind of person are you?

To add to the disconnect, you realise your fellow partygoers are masked. Plain, white, half-face masks, concealing identities that aren’t important anyway. They dance, they manoeuvre, they gently restrict your freedom to move, like a Greek chorus silently commenting on the unfolding tragedy of the young Scots caught up in the heroin web.

Into this unreal, intricate, portentous darkness steps Renton, addressing us directly to accompany him on his journey through his own darkness, and maybe out of the other side, if he is spared. For all his crude language, Renton’s an affable guy. He takes us into his confidence, he shows us the horrors of his life, warts and all – although judging by the state of his bedclothes and toilet, warts are the least of his worries. He’s got an ordinary guy kind of sidekick Tommy, who gets drawn into the web when he takes speed before a job interview; there’s the unreliable and unpredictable Sickboy, and the hard, violent, cruel Begbie, who’s never more comfortable than when he’s kicking his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach, or maintaining ruthless order in his manor.

In Your Face theatre have condensed Irvine Welsh’s original story and characters into 75 minutes of gripping theatre. Performing it as a promenade production gets us the audience as close to the action as possible. You can look directly into Begbie’s eyes and see the evil. You can stare in disbelief at Renton’s faeces-covered body and feel the degradation. You can tower over the pathetic figure of Alison as she sobs uncontrollably on the floor at the death of her baby. You can observe the drug-obliterated Tommy injecting heroin into his penis and grieve with sorrow at how he’s fallen. You’re there; you bear witness to it all; you’re almost part of the gang. Could you have done something to prevent any of this happening? Are you to blame too?

The young cast are fantastic and give brave, brutally honest performances, not shying away from the horrific situations into which their characters are plunged. They also make the best of the opportunities for laddish humour and there are a lot of uncomfortable, but very funny laughs. Whilst there are great central performances from Gavin Ross as Renton, Greg Esplin as Tommy, and Chris Dennis as Begbie, together the whole cast form a great, fluid ensemble, interacting subtly and deftly to create a memorable, but ghastly, universe.

It’s an incredibly deep, claustrophobic and sincere production. It’s also very hot in there, which adds to the intensity and discomfort. But if you want to share in the lives of these people, empathise with their wretchedness, yet celebrate their eventual survival (if they make it) this terrific production is for you.

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