An addendum to the conditions of booking my tickets arrived via email on the day of the performance. Like a film screening late at night on SBS in the 1990s, it boldly warned of nudity, coarse language, violence, sex, drug use and smoking contained within, as well as haze and strobe effects.
Less usually, it continued to warn ‘Please don’t wear your best clothing!’ It made me recall the scene with the bedsheets, and hope I wouldn’t be too close to what had been billed as an ‘immersive production’ of Trainspotting.
Fortyfive Downstairs, Melbourne, March 30, 2017…
When the live production of Trainspotting was first announced, a large pool of colleagues had expressed interest in attending, but the final group who made it to Fortyfive Downstairs was much smaller, with most citing concerns about high expectations when comparing the play to the novel or film version. As a fan of both, I was excited to see another interpretation of the story. In the lead up, I was surprised to learn that it was actually the play, originally performed shortly after the release of the novel, which inspired the film.
The production began in the lobby: once passing through the box office, tickets were exchanged for glow sticks, the lobby converted to the graffiti-laden laneway where bass beats pounded through the ‘warehouse’ we shuffled towards. Each time the mix sank into the next banger, cheers rang out from both inside the warehouse and within the ranks of the patrons outside. Rather than entering to take seats, we fell into a smokey, darkened room – a 1990s rave in full swing. Immediately, cast members with thick Scottish accents accosted us, dancing clumps of patrons towards different sections of the space. Certain traits of the characters began to become evident: It must have been Begbie, sneering at the rave hits playing and snatching cans of beer from patron’s hands. Was that Sick Boy, giggling with a pair of young female patrons he had effortlessly slotted himself between? It was an impressive opening to the show, which built upon the immersion advertised which was to carry through the show – to varying degrees of success.
After playing the immersive nature of the production for laughs – and perhaps to get the audience used to the experience – familiar scenes started to unfold. The infamous bedsheets scene was close to the opening, and just as unfortunate as I’d expected for those patrons in the midst of it, but just as tragically hilarious as one familiar with the novel or film might expect for everyone else. On the other hand, scenes of domestic violence and drug-use took on a harrowing quality when viewed from within the scene as the audience were.
It was a peculiar choice, then, after drawing the audience into a feeling of powerless intimacy with the characters and their tragedies to include surreal, dream-line scenes and lengthy monologues which tended to break that rapport. After the first act, it became difficult to switch between the two ‘modes’ of the production, and hearing characters give voice to what we could already see acted out on stage only tended to lessen the impact.
Still, it was a production that had moments that worked perfectly, and were literally worth writing home about. As much as I tried to detach myself from my love of the film and book, I couldn’t help but await moments from each – some which I loved the interpretation of, some which I thought could have played differently, and some which I was surprised were absent. But, as in my discussion in the lead up, it was most interesting to see what playwright Harry Gibson took from Irvine Welsh’s text, even those choices which were surprising. Although Trainspotting Live was at times uncomfortable, and not for the reasons intended, when it gets its tone right it excels and should be experienced for those moments.