Saturday, January 28

Trainspotting Live – Hope Mill Theatre

Wow, just wow! This was the perfect hit, a heady concoction of filth, foulness and fun. Yes, fun. Which seems extremely odd for a play which is based on Irvine Welsh’s infamous novel about heroin addiction and hopelessness.

The characters maybe without hope but they are teeming with energy. This play is closer to the book than Danny Boyle’s film. If you have seen the movie, you will recognise a number of the set pieces. There is, for instance, the speed induced attempt to mess up a job interview without making it appear that they don’t want the job. And, yes, there is the toilet. Word of warning don’t sit near the loo.

It is staged in such a way that the audience is seated either side of a thin strip where the action takes place. The actors also frequently come into the audience and if you are unlucky you can end up extremely close to a naked actor who has… I won’t say any more but it was brilliantly done. They are also not averse to telling the audience to shut up in no uncertain terms as well. It is certainly immersive theatre.

The narrative moves forward through the set pieces and takes us to some very dark places. Domestic violence, infant death, mindless cruelty. It seems to be a world without love or, as I said earlier, hope. Yet within their defiance there is something extremely strong that binds these characters together.

Of course, the most famous quote from Trainspotting eschews hope and aspiration. It decries the hollowness of consumer society, of conforming to getting a job and settling down, of living the nine to five with polished shoes whilst watching crap mind numbing TV shows as you shuffle on towards your inevitable death.

Welsh is not the first writer to realise this about life, but he did it in such a way that was wonderfully fresh and exciting. Writers often edit themselves and think they have to fit in with the way conventional society thinks about things in order to be successful. The fact that the novel is non-judgemental about drugs and depicts the true depravity of that world is the reason why it is so compelling. In the play Renton says Heroin is an “honest drug” but this is an honest artistic piece of work.

If you were being grand about it, you could say it was social satire, a political statement on the “left behind” or the underclass. But this play was too vibrant, too in your face, too real I suppose to fall in to that category of drama. It is literally there with a needle sticking in its veins, shouting expletives at the top of its voice with its balls hanging out.

The commitment of the actors was incredible but with a production like this everyone has to give everything to make it work. Andrew Barrett as Renton was able to bring out the conflict between the addict and the basically decent guy underneath. His focus and energy was remarkable and it was a phenomenal performance.

It is an ensemble piece, and all the actors were outstanding. Lauren Downie was powerful and imaginative in the numerous parts she played. Greg Esplin as Tommy was heartbreakingly good and extremely funny. Michael Lockerbie played Sick Boy and with admirable intensity. Oliver Sublet was absolutely terrifying as Begbie.

So, I have to say choose life, choose to go and see this play!

It continues at the Hope Mill Theatre until 17th September. It is then touring to Windermere, Glasgow, London and Southampton. Check the website for details –

Reviewer: Adam Williams

Reviewed: 13th September 2022

North West End Rating: ★★★★★