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Review | Trainspotting Live | Hope Mill Theatre | 14/09/2022

What is Trainspotting Live about?

Trainspotting Live is based on the Irvine Welsh book of the same name. Most people however will be familiar with the story from the 1996 BAFTA winning Danny Boyle film. It follows the story of Renton, an unemployed heroin addict, and his 'junkie' friends in Edinburgh. But with even Welsh himself being "blown away" by the production, will I feel the same?

What did I think?

Being at the Hope Mill Theatre gives me a certain level of expectation. I know a venue alone shouldn't, but this building has given me some unforgettable theatre memories. Add to that, it being based on one of my favourite 90's films, the bar was set unrealistically high. Luckily, having refined the show over the last decade, this production is far from a carbon copy of the film. It is a complete reimagining.

This is billed as 'immersive theatre', a term flung about far too often these days. I can almost feel my eyes roll whenever I hear those words, as in reality productions are rarely truly immersive. Here however, they have completely re-written the book on immersive theatre. Before the doors even opened you could feel the bass pulsating through the floor and walls of the Hope Mill. As I nervously entered, another theatre goer gave me a knowing look. Whether he had seen it before or had simply taken notice of the warning sign, I'll never know.

Upon entering the 'theatre' I found myself in a rave, suddenly the glowstick I'd been handed when I arrived made sense (as did the option of ear plugs). With flashing lights and drunken revellers littering the space, a cast member threw his arms around me and showed me to my seat. The theatre had been completely reconfigured from the standard layout. The space was set up in traverse, with three levels of bench seating on each side and a row of chairs behind them. This was mirrored on either side, with barely a couple of meters between the two for the cast to use as their stage which only added to the intensity of the show. I found myself sat directly behind 'the worst toilet in Scotland' which in retrospect should come with its own Shamu-style warning. Whilst sometimes more of a gimmick, the traverse style worked perfectly for this production. A lot of the entertainment came from watching the shock, horror and amusement on the faces of those sat facing me (especially when a sheet was involved... I won't spoil it). Actors often sat and acted amongst the crowd, at times making the audience the star.

As a purist, I generally don't believe in breaking the fourth wall. However, it really worked here. In moments of humour, it elevated the script and only added to the experience. Who would have thought I'd be so amused by a fully naked actor advising an audience member not to take A-Level drama. These moments of real humour had the audience cackling, although their laughter wasn't the only that was 'dirty' in Trainspotting Live! These moments were quickly juxtaposed against uncomfortably brutal scenes. This is one of the few times I've seen a piece of theatre come close to 'Come From Away' in terms of delivering a perfectly crafted emotional rollercoaster.

At 75 minutes 'Trainspotting Live' runs without interval. This was a wise directorial choice, as all the work building an immersive environment would have been completely lost. This was undoubtedly the play of the year for me. It's raw, it's brutal, it's intense and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. I'd love to talk about a stand-out performer in the cast, but they were all equally incredible. They each took their turn in narrating the show with Welsh's words. This never felt forced or awkward, which is testament to the strength of the writing. This was clearly never about putting a film on stage; it was about reinventing it for a live environment. Trainspotting live was quite simply theatrical perfection.

Choose to be shocked

Choose to be made uncomfortable

Choose to laugh your head off


Where can I catch it?

Trainspotting remains at the Hope Mill Theatre until 17/09/2022. It then goes on to Windermere, Glasgow, London & Southampton.


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