The narrative of Trainspotting is best known to most people from Danny Boyle's 1996 film starring Ewan McGregor. For all its crazy surreal moments and quotable dialogue, it offers a compelling story of drug addicts in Edinburgh and characters we care about.
This sixty minute production from In Your Face Theatre acts like a 'best of' of the film. It's got most of the memorable scenes you remember, but it's disjointed and doesn't flow together, attempting to cram a wealth of plot and characterisation into a short amount of time.
You wouldn't want it to last any longer, though. This production is something of a harrowing experience - intentionally so. The company name is fitting: this is an aggressively immersive production that quite literally gets up in the face of the audience. We're invited to sit on the floor of this crack den as the action occurs in and around us and we become part of the play whether we like it or not.
What is thrilling for a few minutes, though, soon becomes gimmicky and the production falls short in the dramatic stakes. On a basic level the staging is distracting with sightlines too easily obscured, ironically confounding immersion. More so, the production boils down to little more than shock tactics; sixty minutes bursting with profanities, nudity, violence and drug use. Visceral it may be, but pleasant it isn't. Immersive theatre may demand a certain level of audience interaction, but when people are hit in the face with pool cues and have shit quite literally flung at them, a line has clearly been crossed.
The reasons for this style are obvious. Welsh's novel is hedonistic, brutal and disturbing, filled with grimly dark humour - something In Your Face have attempted to capture. The end result, though, is overly confrontational and borderline offensive.
It would be more palatable with sympathetic characters, but the cast spend most of their time shouting their lines with little subtlety. Gavin Ross doesn't quite have the magnetism to lead the cast as Renton, though every actor is commendably committed to their respective roles and deliver quick-witted improvisation. As a whole, though, the narrative simply doesn't have any depth beyond some humorous anecdotes on life as a junkie. Boyle's film added a pulsing, youthful pop soundtrack to his film (often copied here) and an overall style that elevated the narrative. Here, though, it's simply style over substance.
Watch: Trainspotting runs at the Kings Head Theatre until 11th April.