Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose nudity and fluids flung around in close confinement. Choose a brilliant, brutal Scottish theatre adaption of Irvine Welsh’s zeitgeist 1993 tome.
Immersive theatre is a term thrown around willy nilly these days, but it really doesn't get any more immersive than this, and it’s not for the weak of heart or stomach.
On entering fortyfivedownstairs' perfectly suited grungy underground, it’s flashbacks galore for anyone who was a raver in the late 20th century.
It’s that same feeling of ecstatic, sweaty disorientation as you are led in to find a seat amongst gurning clubbers pinging around to pumping techno with eyes rolling to the heavens and inane grins. Rumour has it that the cast refrain from washing their costumes so they can keep their eau de grunge – that’s dedication to method acting.
You’re thrown head first into the lives of the junkies and no-hopers that Danny Boyle’s 1996 film made larger than life and turned songs like Underworld’s Born Slippy and Lou Reed’s Perfect Day into anthems for the “heroin chic” generation. But the film is relatively sanitised compared to Welsh’s graphic, hard-hitting novel which this adaption by Harry Gibson is based on.
Just like its intravenous hungry protagonists, the highs are hilariously high and the lows are harrowingly low, which is even more heart-palpitating when the action is happening just inches from your face and you can feel the droplets of sweat.
The audience are seated on rises facing each other with the play on the floor in between, as the beleaguered cast clamber up and down fighting, swearing and grimacing. Part of the uncomfortable entertainment is watching how those on the other side react to the contents of “the worst toilet in Scotland” being flung in their eye (be warned, do not wear valued clothes) or Begbie’s crotch being thrust in their face. If it was overdone, the audience interaction could be taken as pure shock value, but it's balanced so well with quiet, utterly devastating and intimate moments that it just becomes part of a visceral, intense journey.
For those who have experienced trauma from domestic violence or intravenous drugs use, it would be best to heed the trigger warnings on posters as you walk in.
The Scottish cast are absolutely mercurial – possessed in their heroin oblivion one minute, cursing and groaning in the desperate depths of their withdrawals the next. Gavin Ross as Renton is a force to behold, ringing every last drop of emotion from his tattooed depths, and Chris Dennis as Begbie wields the power of the sociopathic thug so well that the audience almost cower as he stomps in.
After four years of touring to widespread acclaim and a blessing from Welsh himself – who has said “the best way to experience Trainspotting is to go and see this production” – you’d be mad to miss this show during comedy festival if you are a fan of the book or film. With Trainspotting 2 now in cinemas, it’s also well timed for an introduction to the younger generation, and the perfect example of the power of the theatre unleashed.
Andrew Kay and Associates present the King’s Head Theatre and an In Your Face production
Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh | adapted by Harry Gibson
Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 22 March – 13 April 2017
Tickets: $59 – $69
Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com | 03 9662 9966