BWW Review: TRAINSPOTTING LIVE a Razor-Sharp, Cold Sweat Sensation at fortyfive downstairs
It will take all of three seconds for you to be transported to the world of mid-90s barely-working-class Scotland, and by the third you'll either be overwhelmed by your urge to escape, or devastatingly addicted to this throbbing, threatening, visceral piece of theatre, semi-ironically brought to Australia for Melbourne International Comedy Festival. An adaptation of the film that beggared belief around the world, and is unfortunately most-renowned for launching the career of one Ewan McGregor where it has many further merits, Trainspotting Live drives the deeper message right up your arm. In Your Face Theatre wields the narratives of the seven Scots navigating addiction, poverty, violence and life as Macbeth's dagger, and the immersive nature of the performance suits their "bloody business" with abandon, not precision, to create an experience truly harrowing, and more powerful for it.
Buying a ticket to this production may feel like putting the money on a horse, on a roulette wheel, a pool table, a street corner, but worth the risk and excitement for the stamina and entrenchment in character of the performers alone. Gavin Ross and Greg Esplin as the narrative axes of Renton and Tommy were masters of their craft, reaching into collective energy in the room and monkey-gripping the emotional vibrations to whip about the stalls, flooding fortyfive downstairs with a literal edge-of-your-seat, machine-gun force. Chris Dennis as Begbie was genuinely terrifying and imposing, a true actor not assuming their role but consuming it, an almost possessed performance. Rachael Anderson caught eyes in every scene she occupied for her multidimensional potency and willingness to engage in the audience variably to create a similar and telling disturbance around her presence. Erin Marshall was similarly, and rewardingly, indomitable even in her most vulnerable characterisations. Calum Barbour and Michael Lockerbie, although perforated from much of the principal narrative, were nonetheless both intoxicating and unnerving to watch for their reminiscence of the more familiar figures in the lives of ticketholders.
Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher, each actor moved expertly through the piece for a dynamic show that zipped by in contorted madcap monologue that was over before you'd had time to really ride the high. Use of space was balanced, and use of props giddyingly over-indulgent, with credit to Clancy Flynn for keeping us all as orientated as they damn well pleased. Spreadbury-Maher had an authentic sense of context for where the work was developed, though slight truncations of the opening sequence would have made more impact, where the cross-hatched concertina of opening dialogue threw barriers up that impaired engagement for an audience unsuited to Scottish brogue. This may have been a deliberate Gruen Transfer of sorts, but in the sweaty dilettante that is sometimes Australian theatregoers, it may have cluttered the intersection of In Your Face's purpose. For those of us who placed our trust in the mayhem though, rewards of insight and emotional extrapolation were delivered. Writer Irvine Welsh has rebirthed less a piece of theatre, as an all-encompassing mindf**k.
Immersive theatre is still a foundling genre in Australia, brought over by companies like Ontroerend Goed, Belt Up Theatre, and Punch Drunk and left here for us to determine how to feel about it when our signifier of quality is still Baz Luhrmann. In Your Face makes no bones about their desire to push the boundaries, so audience members are advised to leave the Sunday Best and the reliance on the fourth wall at home. That being said, it is still important for work and performers to set parameters and cues for safety to ensure an audience feel engaged, not coerced. But that being said, what Trainspotting Live made sure of, is that though we seated in the stuffy confines of their world had a light at the end of our tunnel, these very real reflections of life did not and still do not; not just in nineties Scotland, but strewn stunned across Swanston Street, beating their partners in Brunswick and fringe-dwelling in Frankston.
Where we wanted to flee back into our privileged creative-city lifestyles, or into our own places of trauma activated by such rough and raw work as this, Trainspotting Live fearlessly brought you forehead to forehead in sweaty pre-match grunting with the compassion and emotion these communities don't want, but do still need.
Feral, feud-fuelled, as fertile as it is futile, the story of Trainspotting Live will take you out of your comfort zone and inside your own harsh truth. Brutal, but in the end a merited waking dream, a real trip.