Ron May and the sick kitties at Stray Cat Theatre are down and out in Scotland in this staging of Harry Gibson’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s international best-seller Trainspotting. Many will remember the film, the desolate story, and its horrifying imagery. You needn’t wonder if seeing it live will diminish its effect: after a slow start to set up the audience, May and his ensemble give us a look into the lower depths of Edinburgh. The ceiling baby may be gone, but the shite-filled toilet is there, along with the shooting up, the violence, the desperation, and the attempts to get clean. It’s a strong retelling of a story about which whose purpose I’m still a little hazy.
Mark Renton (Kyle Sorrell) is the spiritual center of a group of heroine- and ale-addled twenty-somethings barely living moment to moment until the next life-affirming fix. Tommy (Alex Raines) is a mate who has so far avoided the call of junk. Franco Begbie (Cale Epps) is a brute with a powerful thirst and equally powerful fists. Alison (Kerry McCue) is a pregnant addict, and Simon “Sick Boy” (Kane Black) lives up to his name both in illness between needles and in a revealing scene later in the second act as to his favorite pastime. On the periphery is Lizzie (Laura Wilkinson), Tommy’s straight-laced sexpot girlfriend who’s chosen life.
May keeps the episodic script from becoming monotonous by his usual eye for stage pictures. No one is ever static, even when they are in the throes of mid-plunge bliss. He keeps us part of the action, which often means making us complicit. He works with lighting designer Tamar Geist to bring us into the bad times and good of this group. By the time we’ve gone through all of the highs and lows, we need a shower, and that’s a compliment to May and his cohorts.
Sorrell is always intense, and he handles the awkwardness of simultaneous doing and narrating very well. When hearing a scene as well as viewing, it’s easy to be taken out of it (as it does early on), but Sorrell speaks with us, inclusively, and it works. While everyone is strong with their dialect work (wonderfully coached by Elayne Stein), you can tell that Epps is the strongest, because between his accent and his inebriation, it’s nearly impossible to understand what he’s saying. But the most impressive part of his performance comes from his baseness and brutishness. He is genuinely frightening. McCue is consistent and heartbreaking. Her big monologue is fun, but it is the moments of pathos in which she put us through the wringer.
Raines is an affable chap, which makes his second act conversion so unsettling. He does both sides of the precipice well. Black has the gleam in his eye that makes his “Sick Boy” fun to watch, although his lines sometimes come across more presentationally than the rest. Wilkinson seems to have the least connection to the accent, but she does have a few fun moments in both acts.
David Ojala’s scenic design in Stray Cat’s latest space is a great pastiche of visuals that refer to specific sections of the book. Scott Jeffers’ sound design features a lot of well-chosen songs and effects.
Which gets me to my one hesitation. Stupendous direction, great acting, and rip-your-guts-out story. But why? A Clockwork Orange, SCT’s prior adaptation uses irony, ultraviolence, and satire to become a sweeping condemnation of society and the human condition. Trainspotting has always smacked of guiltily enjoying the thing you’re condemning. We all can agree that addiction is bad. But it’s kinda-sorta cool to watch people sink into the hole. And that, more than any other reason, is why I feel like I need a shower after watching this theatrically-impressive, thematically-icky production.