Experiencing the narcotic miasma of Trainspotting in one way or another – Irvine Welsh’s book, or Danny Boyle’s translation of it into film – is one of the Generation Y rites of passage, whether or not it inspires you to inject heroin into your eyeballs when all is said and done. It is a peep hole to a bleakly glorious underworld, filled with highs, lows, sewage, and death.
As the 6th of March loomed ever closer, I was almost afraid to receive another reminder of the kind of life I’m missing out on by choosing the other “life”: the one that Mark, the story’s loquacious protagonist, denounces due to its embracing of dishwashers, mortgages and junk food. And this time, the version of events had been adapted for the stage and directed Shaban Arifi, of Islington’s Theatre Collection.
Up some stairs at the back of The Lord Stanley pub in Islington – stairs that smelled mysteriously (okay okay, pleasantly) of kebab meat – is a small, dark room; a bare floor flanked with spartan benches. Fortunately, Trainspotting’s content offers itself up willingly to the stage format and lends itself to a people-centric approach that is refreshingly free of bells and whistles. After all, it is in essence a story about people and friendships and relationships and life at large. And needles and dead babies and AIDS and anal suppositories and duvets covered in excrement, thank God, because otherwise we hardened adrenaline junkies would have been left yawning into our vodka-Red-Bulls.
After a slightly shaky start (now, my ears are by no means averse to profanities, but there were just a few too many C-words splattering the walls during the first ten minutes), the cast got into the swing of things. Mark, played by Mike Archer, was suitably haggard and mad-eyed. And Hannah Keeley’s portrayal of bereaved mother Alison was a joy to behold; she segued from harrowing (post-baby-death) to beguiling (jooped up on ecstasy and chasing squirrels in Regents Park) to sock-it-to-ya crass (spinning an icky yarn that involves lewd pub patrons receiving punishment by tampon). Compelling, convincing, vastly competent.
Bearing in mind the limitations of the space and the sparseness of the set, hats off, I say, to Arifi’s achievement in crafting a world of hedonistic misery. There were some nice touches in the subtle half-lighting of faces and deafening shots of music. And yes, the ultimate litmus test: at one point, I was so swept up in what was going on that I ceased to notice the sensation of impending doom in my buttocks – namely that they might drop off, after having their oxygen supply strangled by the MDF bench propping them up. This is no mean feat. Good job, guys.
Really, my only complaint is that the notorious toilet scene (where Mark’s colon chooses an inopportune moment to evict the much-needed morphine suppositories from their place of rest) was not OTT enough. Where were the gratuitous splashing noises? Why did he not gag more while he had his arm stuck down a U-bend brimming with fresh effluence? I was looking forward to seeing how this particular moment was rendered on stage, and my juvenile inner child left me wanting more. Perhaps it’s time to admit what I look for in a fun day out, and stump up for a tour of London’s sewers during the next period of heavy precipitation.
You can find out more about Theatre Collection’s current and upcoming shows here.