Mini-review – Trainspotting – In Your Face at King’s Head Theater

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It’s hard to believe that In Your Face Theater could be so brave as to take on Irvine Welsh’s incredibly unattractive picture of junkie life and try to make it into a consumable piece of theater. But so they have done, and with enough success at Edinburgh that they brought it down to London to give us non-festival types the chance to enjoy it on our home turf. (There’s a bit where the characters make fun of people clogging the streets of Edinburgh during the Fringe: I can’t help but wonder how it would have gone over with the original audience.) It’s all been condensed to just over 65 minutes to boot, which made me wonder how coherent it would all be.

In fact, there’s so much packed into this show that one hour feels almost like too much, given that it’s sensory overload from the minute you walk in, glowstick bracelet snapped around your wrist, and have to push your way through the dancing crowds filling the theater and try to find a perch where you can watch the show safely. But no place is really safe, as the cast members plop down next to you, stand in front of you (and shout at you, or make fun of you quietly), toss wet, dirty laundry overhead and generally act like it’s THEIR place and YOU’RE the invader. Which we are, kind of, since most of us are people with enough money to spare to go out to the theater and none of is (likely) are dealing with a life-altering drug addiction.

If you’ve seen the movie (or read the book), you’ll remember a lot of key scenes, like the ones with the filthy toilet, the dead baby, and the ruined bedclothes; but everything is made far more visceral with actors who easily get their kit of and smear themselves with all sorts of repugnant liquids in order to make what they’re doing feel real. I felt distinctly uncomfortable in many of the scenes, especially the violent ones, or the ones that hinted at violence; the actors were mostly ignoring us but we’d tiptoed past the fourth wall and things were all feeling a little bit too real. I even had to look away at the shooting up scenes; brrrrr.

While I remember a sense of giddiness and hysteria from the film, this play left out all of the hallucinations, visceral raw joy, and glorious drug highs, giving us, instead, fat doses of the squalid reality the characters are inhabiting. At the end, then, I think we were supposed to have a sad, broken feeling about the lead character’s best friend dying; but, for all that he’d been built up to be a decent person, it seemed impossible to feel anything for someone so hell bent on destruction and stupidity. Trainspotting, as a play, is a more real, meaty, horrifying experience than the movie ever was, and believably summoned the ghosts of the junk dens I knew in Arizona, long long ago, and all of the lovely, intelligent, life-loving people that never made it out of them. It’s a sixty-five minute flashing-lights, violent, shit stained roller coaster ride: an excellent, full body experience – but I felt a sense of relief when we were finally allowed to escape into the damp night.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, March 24th, 2014. It continues until April 11th. Some days it’s even on four times in a row: respect!)

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