King’s Theatre is transformed into the gritty and bleak underworld of Edinburgh in this adaptation of cult favourite Trainspotting. It is a production which wallows in a darkness only cut with nostalgic music, swirling snow, and writhing psychedelic drug trips, and the end result is a show which is steeped in impenetrable nihilism.
Trainspotting demands a lot of its audience. Not only are non-Scottish viewers expected to perform their own linguistic gymnastics to understand the slang and speed of the dialogue, the show also features frequent gross-out humour, death, and a continued cycle of self-destruction. The story itself drags, almost purposefully, through increasingly depressing episodes that force its characters into increasingly depressing situations, and it is a challenge to make it to the interval without wincing or feeling vaguely ill. This meandering narrative is effective in emphasising the uselessness of the world these characters live in, however feels aimless after the first hour, and the constant narration only reminds me that this story remains best suited to a novel.
Despite Trainspotting lacking in storytelling, the performances shine through here with a talented cast bringing life and distinctive energy to an otherwise hugely unlikeable line-up of characters. Lorn MacDonald is an electrifying Mark Renton, the audience’s guide through this underworld, and has mastered flitting violently from level-headed confidence to frenzied desperation as his character struggles with his addiction and his role as an enabler for his friends’ bad habits. Angus Miller is also a stand-out performance, playing the roles of both Tommy and Sickboy, the latter of which he revels in, bringing a magnetic charm to an otherwise horrific character. The only disappointment comes from the lack of stage-time given to Chloe-Ann Taylor. As the token girl of the group her roles are comprised of an underage girl who sleeps with Mark, a bereaved mother, and bereaved widow who sleeps with Mark: she performs each of these roles with confidence and nuance, however she barely appears for more than ten minutes. It is a shame that her talent is not allowed a deeper role.
The visual storytelling is integral to a show spoken in a strong and speedy dialect, and Gareth Nicholls’ direction is impressive and clear. The production also has a great set that fully emphasises the lack of reality these characters struggle with. Everything is stripped back and bathed in a grimy green and brown light, mattresses are scattered about, chairs and tables float in and out of scenes to create the prison of addiction, as well as its intangibility.
Nicholls’ production provides a focused insight into the struggles of those forgotten by the world, and those who force themselves to disappear. Trainspotting is not easy viewing, but will make you think twice about that stiff drink to cope partway through.