“Trainspotting” at the Elephant Theatre, you say? “Trainspotting” as in the harrowing, quasi–psychedelic 1996 film set in the foul underbelly of the Edinburgh heroin scene that follows a group of fecking Scottish low-lifers rut and shag on the giro geld, squeezing some knob lurve and tanning a fit buzz on while thumb spinning till the next proper fecking load up?
Yep, that’s the one. But on stage what you’re given is less quasi–psychedelic and about six times more harrowing.
Adapted by Henry Gibson from his jolting 1993 novel, “Trainspotting” hurls the audience down the cancerous rabbit hole of heroin addiction. Renton (Justin Zachary) is the strung out Alice who, along with his mates Sick Boy (Jonathan Roumie) and Tom (David Agranov), shake the sweats of the dead time between scores as they pursue a rabid white rabbit.
Their lives are the stuff of car wrecks.
I was wondering how the stage production would attempt to recreate the drug-induced reality of the film, and wisely they choose not to try. Instead what comes to the forefront is the suffering humanity of the characters that should prick the compassion of anyone still in possession of that poor, maligned virtue.
The language of the piece is one long obscenity soaked sonnet. Poetry of pain punctuated by wads of spunk, snot, pish and shite. As with the film, the indescribable sub-culture cant submerged beneath an impenetrable Scottish brogue can present a challenge to any audience. At these points you need to follow the old opera adage, when you don’t know the language listen to the emotion, and “Trainspotting” is an opera of despair on a Wagnerian level and that is something we all understand.
Zachary excels as the strung out Renton striving to resurrect himself from the hellish haze of his addiction. Jonathan Roumie as the capricious Sick Boy brings such a genuineness to his role that it is rather jarring when he takes his curtain call being reminded it was only a performance. David Agranov distinguishes himself as the rubbery faced “babe in the woods” Tommy, and Katy Townsend singes the stage as Diane, the school girl gone bad in all the right ways.
The cast is large, the dramatis personae larger, requiring most of the actors to pull multi-role duty. Elizabeth Knowelden, Ben Wilson, and Francesca Manzi all have the necessary talent and scope to stand out in their primary roles then manage the metamorphose into secondary and support roles with stunning success.
This is not the show for children, the prudish or the easily shocked. Clothes are continually stripped of and bodies slam into each other in drug induced desperation not passion.
Roger Mathey’s direction at first struck me as too bare, but the rawness of it grew on me. Fans of the 1996 film will find this production offers a deeper delving into the self-flagellation of heroin abuse for which credit must go to Mathey’s bare knuckle direction.
There was a program warning which I should share with you:
There is cigarette smoking in this production of “Trainspotting”.
There is also simulated drug use, simulated sex, simulated bodily functions, simulated Scottish accents, profanity, nudity, lewdity, excrement, excitement, and a fair bit of spunk alongside the pish, shite, and puke.
Well, if reading that you made it through without once exclaiming “Oh my God!”, then you are a likely candidate to experience a first-rate production.