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Theatre Review: Trainspotting ****

Michael Cox reviews 'a captivating production'.

‘Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career.’ So begins Renton’s famous opening rant, practically screaming into a microphone like a free styling Hip-Hop singer in Gareth Nicholls staging. It’s an iconic monologue, one that has transcended its original source to become an angry statement for the young.

Written by Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting isn’t really about anything. It’s a collection of moments centred on a circle of friends in Leith in the 80s. They hang out. They get in fights. They collect unemployment. They go to clubs and screw around. Some of them famously use heroin, and some get into trouble—quite seriously sometimes.

Unlike Danny Boyle’s film, which chose to focus primarily on Renton, Harry Gibson’s stage adaptation is more of an ensemble piece. Renton might act as the lynchpin, but Spud, Sick Boy, Begbie and even Alison all get their moment in the spotlight. It’s a solid script, one that actually fills in a few bits Boyle’s film left ambiguous.

It is, however, the energy of the production that sets this apart. From the design (scattered set pieces brilliantly lit while a thumping soundtrack plays) to Nicholls’ staging, this is a production that is nearly an assault on the senses. It’s terrifically staged but is even better in its performances.

Lorn Macdonald greatly impresses as Renton. He has the hardest job: being a realistic lead while playing unreliable narrator. He’s compelling to watch throughout, even if his character doesn’t have any of the quirks that the supporting characters do. Chloe-Ann Tylor brings a nice feminine counterbalance to the production. Neither of her characters are leads, but each has at least one single strong moment that impresses. Angus Miller’s Sick Boy is the weakest character, easy to miss when he’s not on stage, but Miller has far greater success playing doomed Tommy. Owen Whitelaw’s Begbie is surprisingly tame, not quite the wild card in the pack, but he’s utterly mesmerising as dealer Mother Superior. The single strongest performance, however, is found in Gavin Jon Wright’s Spud: a tragic-comic character that is equally hilarious and pathetic. It’s not just Wright’s delivery that impresses but his full embodiment of the character, treating Spud almost like a silent film star with physical antics that speak volumes.

Together, the five-member ensemble create a captivating production that might not be entirely enjoyable but is certainly impressive in its relentless pace.

Trainspotting performs at the Citizens Theatre until October 8.

Tags: theatre

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