As an adaptation of a novel perhaps better known as a film, Trainspotting Live occupies a strange transmedia space. Its brutal, dissonant tones are kept at arms length on the page and on the screen, giving readers and viewers space to connect, disconnect and analyse the text as they engage with it. The theatre production gives its audience no such luxuries.
In order to maintain an intensity usually far more familiar in books and films than theatre, and to prevent any accusations of trite melodrama, Trainspotting Live throws you straight into a raging neon night club (a transformed fortyfivedownstairs performance space). Set up as something between a thrust stage and theatre in the round, the audience are seated opposite each other on steps rather than seats, peering onto the thin strip of the stage. Once seated, the audience are immersed in the world of the characters, through sweat and shouts and monologues in thick Scottish accents. The air quickly becomes dense with smoke machine fog, flashing lights and body heat. The music is loud, and the shouting combative. It takes the Australian audience a while to adjust to the accents, as though they were watching Shakespeare in the modern day. Thankfully, the production eases our foreign ears into it, starting off which broad brush stroke characters and narrowing in on them and their relationships as the play builds.
The show follows the same narrative and characters as the film and the book, that of the heroin scene in Edinburgh in the 80s, reduced into an emotionally raw 75 minutes. Trainspotting Live is performed by Rachael Anderson, Calum Barbour, Chris Dennis, Greg Esplin, Michael Lockerbie, Erin Marshall, and Gavin Ross, seven Scottish actors touring with the show. It’s difficult to single out any one actor to lay compliments at their feet, but Ross and Lockerbie do bring a particular skin-crawling believability to their overwhelming desire to get high.
In discussing this production, it’s hard to return to the word intense, and it’s a word most reviews of it have used liberally. This is “in yer face” theatre (the company who originally produced the show, as well as an accurate description), and it is a kind of audience engagement rarely seen in a well known theatre. Anyone who claims to be a regular patron of the theatre should see this, to remind themselves of the thrills and emotions possible on stage. However, intense is a neutral description – if you suffer intense anxiety, have a recent history of drug use, or are uncomfortable with depictions of domestic violence, be warned before going in. The air can feel suffocating, the descriptions and acting out of intravenous drug use is vivid, and there is a direct kick to a pregnant belly. The denouement, however, is worth the discomfort.
Trainspotting Live is on at fortyfivedownstairs until 13 April. Depending on the day, the show starts sometime between 7:30 and 9:30 pm. Tickets range between $30 – $45. Head to the website for more information and tickets.