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Trainspotting Live

Theatre Review by Jose SolĂ­s - July 17, 2018

The Cast of Trainspotting Live
Photo by Travis Emery Hackett

When asked the question: if you could go inside any movie you love, which one would you choose? Cinephiles tend to go for films set in tropical or fantastical locations, where the stakes are rather low when it comes to having their lives threatened, and where you know you'd come out a hero (The Wizard of Oz would be my choice, if only to wear those ruby slippers for a second). As much as I love Trainspotting, Danny Boyle's adaptation of Irvine Welsh's seminal novel, I would never choose it as a film I'd want to experience in real life. With its harrowing look at addiction and characters always on the verge of losing control, it's very much the equivalent of an existential trial, and yet in Trainspotting Live, which opened July 15 at Roy Arias Stages, directors Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin achieve what seems to be impossible: they transform the nightmare into a dream machine.

Walking into the venue you're given glow bracelets instead of tickets, and as you make your way towards the theatre through the dimly lit, cavernous hallway covered in bright orange paint and expressionistic graffiti, you are reminded of theatre's power to transport us to a different place and time. You are no longer in Midtown New York, but rather in a rave in 1990's Edinburgh, where you are welcomed by flashing lights, thumping electronica, and dancers covered in sweat who welcome you as if they'd been waiting for you their whole lives.

Soon enough the music fades and the energetic dancers are revealed to be the characters waking up to the reality of life after the party. Mark Renton (Andrew Barrett) serves as guide, helping tell the stories of his friends Begbie (Tom Chandler), Sick Boy (Tariq Malik) and Tommy (Esplin), heroin addicts caught in the limbo between eternal free-spiritedness and traditional (i.e. boring) adulthood with its corporate jobs, suits and ties, and responsibilities. The ensemble rounded up by Lauren Downie, Pia Hagen and Olivier Sublet, all do an impressive job, especially when it comes to maintaining the high-energy feel of the show. Esplin, in particular, is so magnetic that one wouldn't be surprised to learn that the energy emanating from him is being used to power the electrical system in the entire building.

Fans of the movie and novel will undoubtedly be thrilled to see some of their favorite moments come to life, that is, if they're not splashed by toilet water, beer or, at one point, Mark's excrement. Because with its setting in-the-round, Trainspotting Live makes its boldest point by forcing us to become witnesses to the horrors of addiction and its aftermath, reminding us that with the literal highs, also come endless lows. The set also helps create what can be described as a representation of the time/space continuum, with several Trainspotting "landmarks" including the toilet from which Mark retrieves filthy suppositories, the stranger's bed where he wakes up covered in his own filth, and another bed that serves as the setting of both remarkable pleasure and tragic loss.

The sense of inescapability conveyed by Spreadbury-Maher and Esplin makes Trainspotting Live one of the most powerful theatrical experiences in the city. There were several moments when I wanted to bolt across the stage and exit (despite the phrase "only cunts leave" boldly written on the door discouraging me from doing so), only to be seduced seconds later by scenes of immense bliss that made me want to join the actors onstage. I can't think of a better metaphor for addiction than the feelings brought on by this play. Rather than relying on 90's nostalgia to attract audience members, Trainspotting Live is the rare stage adaptation of a beloved property that feels like it's earned its place in a theater. If there is a Trainspotting universe of sorts, the stage production provides audience members with the most holistic experience: we can delight in Welsh's witty writing, see Boyle's gritty, neon images come to life, and get an immediate sense of the characters' humanity simply because we can touch them. The human condition is rarely as exposed and memorable as it is in this show.

Trainspotting Live
Through August 25
Roy Arias Stages, 777 8th Avenue
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule:

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