CITIZENS THEATRE, GLASGOW
Review by Mark Brown
Ever since the release of Danny Boyle’s film adaptation in 1996, it has been difficult to tell where the cult of Irvine Welsh’s famous novel Trainspotting ends and the craze for the movie begins. What is certain is that Harry Gibson’s stage version (which premiered at the Citizens’ Stalls Studio in 1994, the year after the publication of the novel) has long been subsumed within the iconography of Boyle’s film.
Any director staging Gibson’s adaptation has a very clear choice, stick (with the imagery of the movie) or twist (with an attempt at something more original). Gareth Nicholls, director of this major, main stage production for the Citizens, has opted unashamedly for the former.
Those well known characters – articulate heroin addict Renton, violent psychopath Begbie et al – are, from their physical appearance to their personas, closely modelled on those in the film, as is the visual world of Nicholls’s staging. It shares the same cartoonish, Technicolor aesthetic and jars similarly against the bleak realities of drug addiction.
If Friday’s opening night audience needed reminding that the film and, consequently, the play have become a series of visual greatest hits, the over-enthusiastic woman in the front row of the stalls was happy to oblige. Whether it was Renton fishing in “The Worst Toilet in Scotland” for his opium suppositories or Spud with his bundle of soiled bed sheets, she whooped and cheered as if she was watching highlights of her favourite football team winning a cup final.
Which is not to say that Nicholls’s production is a mere stage version of the movie. There are elements, such as the curtain towards the back of the stage (which is used cleverly as a device of concealment and revelation) that are unambiguously theatrical.
Likewise the choreography; although, in the incongruous nightclub scene, it looks as if movement director EJ Boyle has taken her inspiration from the video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
None of which should detract from the accomplishments of a uniformly excellent, five-strong cast. Lorn MacDonald , in particular, is a fine Renton, not least in the hilarious scene in which he convinces an Edinburgh sheriff that he stole a volume of Kierkegaard from a bookshop, not in order to sell it on to buy heroin, but to advance his knowledge of Existentialist philosophy.
A smart, smooth Trainspotting, then, but one unimaginable without Boyle’s famous film, or its still substantial fan base.
Until October 8: citz.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on September 17, 2016
© Mark Brown