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Trainspotting live: there are no safe seats

Adelaide Fringe

“Don’t wear white.” That’s the director’s advice for people attending Adelaide Fringe performances of Trainspotting – an immersive, boundary-pushing show in which there are no safe seats.

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Fans of Scottish author Irvine Welsh’s grimly gritty novel Trainspotting, about a group of friends negotiating the highs and lows of Edinburgh’s heroin scene in the 1980s, may be sceptical about how well it translates to the stage.

The play, however, was penned before the hugely successful 1996 film. According to director Adam Spreadbury-Maher – who will bring the latest UK adaptation to Adelaide next month, shortly before a new film version is released – it is also more faithful to Welsh’s original writing.

His production has won the approval of the author, who reportedly said he was shocked when he saw it in Edinburgh – “and I wrote the f***ing thing”.

“Oh yeah, he loved it,” Spreadbury-Maher confirms.

“He’s since said it was humbling, and he thinks the best way to experience Trainspotting is to come and see this production.

“I work with a lot of playwrights and I’ve never had praise like that before.”

The director says Welsh’s comments have been echoed by fans of the book and film who have attended performances of the King’s Head Theatre and In Your Face production at underground carparks, a workingmen’s club, a warehouse and other unorthodox spaces in the UK.

“You can spot them [hardcore fans] because usually they are sitting right up close and they usually don’t get upset when they get covered with the contents of the toilet.

“And when Sickboy or Renton land in their laps or walk past them and touch them or go to vomit in their laps, they’ll give them a hug and pat them on their back rather than flinch and turn away.”

Trainspotting live: there are no safe seats

A scene from the play.

For those who have seen director Danny Boyle’s film, the notorious “worst toilet in Scotland” scene is impossible to forget.

For the as-yet-unscarred, it sees Renton (played on screen by Ewan McGregor) dive into the filthiest public loo imaginable to try to retrieve a heroin suppository (YouTube it at your own risk).

Spreadbury-Maher says that in the stage production, the contents of the toilet end up thrown all around the place as the addict searches for his fix.

“He’s a heroin addict, so he’s not delicate about it. He’s throwing it over his shoulder – and there’s all sorts of things in there…

“But surprisingly, it’s not gratuitous. It’s a moment where we can quite beautifully and succinctly show the desperation he has to be going through to get a hit.”

In the Fringe guide, Trainspotting is listed within theatre/interactive genre and recommended as suitable for ages 15+. A media release from the Adelaide Festival Centre, which is presenting the show, warns of coarse language, nudity, strobe lighting, simulated smoking, violent themes/imagery, haze effects and simulated drug use. It advises audience members not to wear their best clothes.

The director goes a step further:

“I’ve got to say there’s no safe seats. Definitely don’t wear white.”

WARNING: video below contains language and content that may offend.

Welsh’s book is firmly rooted in time and place – a depressed area of Edinburgh during Thatcher’s Britain – yet Spreadbury-Maher believes there is a timelessness and universality to its themes of co-dependency, drug addiction and violence which mean it remains popular with contemporary audiences.

The play’s cast members, all from Edinburgh, speak in their native dialect, which he was determined would not be “flattened” simply to make it more comprehensible for non-Scottish audiences.

“I’m really happy because we’ve done three London seasons based on those lines and I think we’re in a really good place to come to Australia and share the work, with the authenticity of the original.

“It’s kind of like Shakespeare, where you go and see a play and you do spend a bit of time at the start just tuning into the world and to the vernacular. There will undoubtedly be times when there’s a word they don’t understand, but because of the way we’ve created the piece they will understand what they need.”

In Adelaide, Trainspotting will be performed at Station Underground, a new venue in the Railway Station underpass which is said to be suited to the grungy and immersive nature of a show which lacks the traditional audience-cast separation of most theatre works.

The more hostile the space, theatrically speaking, the better, says the director.

“Every time we take it somewhere different it is a new challenge for all of us and that’s exciting … that’s fun. To take these hostile spaces and make it feel like we have just stumbled upon this rage and turned it into an amazing theatrical space.”

Trainspotting, recommended for ages 15+, will be presented at Station Underground, 52-54 Hindley Street, from February 17 until March 19 as part of the Adelaide Fringe.

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