Review – Trainspotting

Dec 18 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩ Hardcore theatre-making

Out Of The Blue Drill Hall: Mon 16 – Sun 22 December 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

Wild and unruly, In Your Face Theatre’s production of Trainspotting makes interesting use of the open space of the Out of the Blue Drill Hall for its immersive, promenade format.

This is Harry Gibson’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh, which retains the episodic nature of the original novel and premiered at the Traverse in 1994.

Matt Swift as Sick Boy. Photo Edinburgh Photographic

Almost 20 years later, directors Christopher Rybak and Craig Boyle rekindle the fresh, visceral tension of that production. They capture some of the scuzzy futility of life in Leith and Edinburgh in the late eighties and early nineties, they parade it for a teched-up 21st century audience.

Crucially, they succeeded in stepping out from under the weight of the Danny Boyle film, whose iconic moments have prejudiced how any production will be viewed.

Here is the prime junkie, Renton, the selfish, likeable, cod-philosophising narrator of much of this tale of Edinburgh’s drug culture. With his pals – Sick Boy, Tommy, Alison and, of course, the ever-unpredictable, radge Begbie – they touch parts of Edinburgh rarely ever seen.

But it is Gavin McQueen’s brilliant Renton who dominates the whole show. McQueen has the North Edinburgh boy down perfectly, from the patter and its delivery, to the accent and the faint sense of pride in having given up on everything. Everything except smack, that is.

As the audience is moved up and down the central open space from one scene to the next, squeezed by moveable walls and pulled by the lure of hand-held lighting, it is McQueen who gives the piece its pace.

cocksure arrogance

Immersed in the audience and daring to address them individually at times, he gives it a reality – although there are scenes when his cocksure arrogance doesn’t quite dance with the twinkle-toed hedonism that it needs to, for believability’s sake.

The whole thing sets off with a “rave” before the production itself takes off. Slightly misnamed, this is more chilled than the anthemic hardcore of Rezerection and more pre-midnight Burger Queen than Tribal or Pure. And for real authenticity Hannah Allan’s sound design falters from not being nearly loud enough.

The half hour jigging around to a few old tunes – Trainspotters of a different hue will have a fine time – does serve the purpose of time transportation back to the nineties.

Around Renton, the cast put in generally strong performances. Greg Esplin is a strongly upbeat Tommy, laughing at the gullibility of those around him. Until his own downfall arrives, when his own final struggle provides – in the play’s dying moments – a shatteringly sharp glimpse of what that futility really means.

There are intense performances from Chris Dennis as Begbie and Matt Swift as Sick Boy. Perhaps too self-consciously intense, however, as some of the impact of their performances are  lost as they let their exuberance get in the way of their clarity.

Doctoring their food with her own body fluids

Erin Marshal has one of the play’s best comic scenes as Alison, where she is stuck waitressing in a cafe and deals with a group of drunk Englishmen by doctoring their food with her own body fluids. The comedy is there, but the direction doesn’t drive it on fast enough and Marshall needs a bit more narratorial authority to make it work.

These four and a further seven other performers dodge in and out of various other roles. In the main they do so with a real understanding of the needs of the production, as it pitches between horror and comedy.

Their most important role, however, lies in the shepherding of their audience. And it is in this that the whole production is at its least happy. Christopher Rybak’s design and the inventive way he uses the hall means that the whole audience should be able to experience each scene to optimum advantage. But to do so, movement of the audience needs a bit more specific guidance.

But when you can see it, and the actors get into the moment right up in front of your nose, this is an experiment with hardcore theatre-making that is well worth taking.

Running time 2 hrs 25 mins (including 30 minute pre-show club event)
Out of the Blue, Monday 16 – Sunday 22 December 2013.
Daily 7pm (club) for a 7.30pm start.
Tickets and booking details from:

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