Photo by: Geraint Lewis Photo by: Geraint Lewis

Review: Trainspotting Live at The Vaults

Written for Everything Theatre

I’m not going to lie: apart from excited, I was also a little bit scared going into Trainspotting Live, the immersive theatre version of Irvine Welsh’s novel. Anyone who’s read the book, or seen Danny Boyle’s film adaptation, will probably get where I’m coming from; Trainspotting is not for the faint of heart, and I was slightly worried that ‘immersive’ might in this case mean getting heroin injected into my eyeball, or something along those lines.

Trainspotting tracks the lives of a group of friends in late eighties Edinburgh, mainly focusing on their destructive behaviours including drug and alcohol addiction, theft and violence. Like the book, the play features of a series of separate scenes rather than a traditional storyline. Main character Mark is our narrator for the bulk of the show, occasionally joined by others like the violent psychopath Begbie or the group’s dealer Mother Superior, as they describe the (literal) highs and lows of life as a heroin junkie.

In Your Face Theatre, who have been performing this show since 2013, truly live up to their name here. Even though the audience are all sat down throughout the show, this definitely was one of the most immersive theatre experiences I’ve ever had, as the cast sit on, climb over and occasionally grope their spectators. About a third of the audience got splattered with diarrhoea. Several people were slapped in the face with a shit-stained sheet. I won’t go into a detailed description of the infamous ‘worst public toilet in Scotland’ scene, but let’s say that seeing it done immersively is quite the experience. There was actual horrified shrieking from large parts of the audience.

Amid all its nudity and bodily fluids though, Trainspotting Live doesn’t lose either the humour or the heart of the original story, and in the end it’s the gut-wrenchingly sad scenes that stay with you more than the icky bits. This is mostly due to the excellent cast who are impressive throughout, from the moment we walk into the theatre space to see them raving away with their glow sticks to the show’s subdued final moments.

My only point of critique would be that Trainspotting Live is almost too immersive; there was so much audience reaction over the course of the show that it was quite hard to hear the actors sometimes. Of course it’s fantastic that a play can create such a strong response in its spectators, but it’s not exactly ideal when you’re trying to follow the story. The traverse staging and the decision to occasionally play out scenes simultaneously at either end of the space didn’t help with this either; if you’re keen on seeing the show but are completely new to Trainspotting, reading a quick summary beforehand will probably make your evening a lot more enjoyable. And if you’re looking to pop your immersive theatre cherry, perhaps easy yourself into it with something a bit less risqué. (Unless you are fairly certain you’ll enjoy being called a speccy cunt or having a dick bouncing up and down mere inches from your face, in which case you should totally go for it.)

This show is certainly not one for the easily traumatised, but on the other hand it’s difficult to imagine a story that’s better suited to this kind of visceral treatment. Irvine Welsh himself said that of this production that it’s ‘the best way to experience Trainspotting’, and I couldn’t agree more.

Trainspotting Live is playing at The Vaults until 3 June 2018