Review: Trainspotting, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow (Sunday Herald)




Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Until October 8


Reviewed by Mark Brown




It’s 22 years since Harry Gibson’s stage adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s famous novel Trainspotting premiered in the Citizens Theatre’s stalls studio. Now the play has graduated to the Citz’s main stage.

It may or may not be coincidental that this major production, directed by Gareth Nicholls, comes shortly before the release (next year) of T2, Danny Boyle’s much-anticipated sequel to his celebrated screen adaptation of Welsh’s novel. What is certain, however, is the influence of Boyle’s 1996 film over Nicholls’s show.

As he paints Trainspotting’s tragicomedy of drug addiction and drug dealing across the stage, Nicholls turns repeatedly to the iconic hyperrealism of the film.

Whether it’s “The Worst Toilet in Scotland”, which sits front stage in all its scatological glory, or Spud standing, nervously, in his girlfriend’s kitchen clutching his “carry out” of fouled bed sheets, the production seems tailor made for fans of the movie. The characters themselves, from Lorn MacDonald’s brilliantly loquacious heroin addict Renton to Owen Whitelaw’s high-octane psychopath Begbie, look like they’ve been drawn from the film.

In fairness, the Citz isn’t laying claim to imagistic originality. Its online advert for the production is an homage to Boyle’s movie. Even the promotional material, which features Renton disappearing down the cludgie in pursuit of his opium suppositories, is resplendent in the bright orange that is synonymous with the film.

When the piece does attempt to be more theatrical, the results are decidedly mixed. The use of a curtain towards the back of the stage is a neat scene-changing device. However, movement director EJ Boyle’s choreography in the nightclub scene was, surely, not intended to make the clubbers appear like robotic zombies.

None of which is to say that this is a bad production. In fact, it is as smooth, well-produced and well acted as the movie itself.

The problem is, in being so reverent to Boyle’s screen version, Nicholls’s piece takes on the atmosphere of cult theatre. Although not quite reaching Rocky Horror Show proportions, the more exuberant members of the opening night audience responded to their favourite bits the way rock music fans greet their most-loved songs.

Which is great for the initiated, but not so great for those who hoped that, 23 years after Welsh’s novel was originally published, we might be due a more reflective and creative staging of Trainspotting.

An abridged version of this review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on September 25, 2016

© Mark Brown

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