The bliss and misery of heroin addiction are painted with equal honesty in this adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel.
Trainspotting is a loud, challenging and entirely uncompromising story about people most of us would rather ignore.
And in the confines of the King’s Head Theatre, it becomes an immersive, high-octane production that leaves you unable to turn a blind eye to anything, certainly not when soiled bedsheets are being chucked about, and the action is too up-close to be anything but interactive.
Trainspotting is already familiar to many through Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel, and Danny Boyle’s 1996 film starring Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle as addict Renton and psychopath Begbie.
But this adaptation by Harry Gibson has chiselled the novel into a breakneck, 65-minute dash through the most desperate days of Renton’s addiction. And though his stoic mum eventually drags him back from the brink, it’s a lifestyle that ends in tragedy for more than one of his friends.
The pulsing sound design by Hannah Allen and Tom Kitney’s exceptional lighting are central to the atmospheric success of the show, creating everything from a sweaty club to the nastiest toilet facilities in all of Edinburgh.
Gavin Ross excels as whey-faced Renton, amiably talking us through the worst imaginable situations a young man could find himself in. It’s an apparently fearless performance, requiring steely courage for scenes including nudity, violence and abject humiliation.
Yet despite his addiction, Renton remains socially adept, manoeuvring his way through the minefield of friendships with the likes of brutal hard-man Begbie, played with coiled-spring menace by Chris Dennis. He even manages to offer some words of comfort to bereaved mother Alison (Erin Marshall) in one of the play’s bleakest moments, although her thoughts have already turned to whether anyone is ‘cooking’.
Multi-tasking Greg Esplin is Artistic Director, Director and also plays poor, doomed Tommy. Jessica Innes has an impressive vocal range that takes her effortlessly from lairy sexpot Gail Houston to Renton’s desperate mum, while Neil Pendleton brings a poignant vulnerability to Sick Boy.
It’s impossible to remain impassive while watching this show, which is strong meat throughout, and some audience members opted for an early exit only minutes into the opening scene.
However, they missed out. The performance may be very much in your face, but it’s also funny, very sharply directed by Greg Esplin and Adam Spreadbury-Maher, and acted with enough vigour and commitment to make you feel you’re stuck in the same desperate net as the sinking addicts.
This adaptation has already proved an Edinburgh fringe success and its London run will hopefully seal the future for this bold and brave company.
Until 11 April, 7pm and 8.30pm
King’s Head Theatre, Upper Street Islington
020 7226 4443