Gettin’ high on Trainspotting

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By Leah Rumack

Gotta go. Must get outta here. Fuckin’ hell. God. Gotta go. Can’t they stop bloody pounding? Doesn’t anyone ever hear it? Oh, clever, what a clever fucking theatrical device. Make the audience bloody sick. Gotta go. You can’t bloody go! You’re the reviewer. Stare at your pad. Draw little circles. There you go.

It can be a bit of an embarrassment when the reviewer has a full-on physical shock reaction halfway through the first act. Sweat, nausea, anxiety. Junkie. Fucking junkie. They said the play was harder to take than the movie. They were right.

Set in working-class Edinburgh and written in the surreal rhythm of a junkie’s life, Trainspotting, the play adapted from the movie of the same name, becomes that much more intense when it’s in the flesh. Literally. Detailing heroin addiction, haggis, fish and chips and other depravities, the play has become and international commodity.

Adapted by Harry Gibson from Irvine Welsh’s cult-hit book, the play has been translated into nine languages and plans for production in Japan and Iceland are in the works.

Continuing with the Canadian Stage Company’s trend of presenting edgier, contemporary pieces (Poor Super Man, Angels in America) in its Berkeley Street space, the company aggressively pursued the North American rights for Trainspotting. Alternately dark comic (and I stress dark) and sad, the Canadian version captures all the humour, violence and class politics that have made the show so popular.

While the movie centered around junkie protagonist Mark Renton’s personal journey, the play switches narrators and becomes an interlinked series of episodes, with no clear linear structure. Although the presentation is jerky and dizzying, it is meant to be. It not only tells the audience what a junkie’s life is like, it drags them through how it feels.

Playing amongst apocalyptic visions of scaffolding, filthy toilets and gas masks, the young actors drive the show relentlessly. Shaun Smyth does strong work as Mark, and Josh Peace is poignant as Tommy, the innocent who laments the death of a squirrel but ends up as a vision of drug addicted, AIDS-ridden hell. Deborah Pollitt does an exceptional turn as Alison, moving effortlessly from wrenching numbness at the discovery of her dead baby to a spot-on comic delivery as a waitress with a nasty streak and a dangerous tampon.

The only occasional weak link is Paulino Nunes as the randomly violent Franco. While suitably threatening, his Scots accent had a nasty habit of ending up somewhere in the middle of Manitoba, and in this show, when you lose the accent, you lose everything.

 

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