Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 8 – 24, 2014
Playwright: Harry Gibson (based on the novel by Irvine Welsh)
Director: Luke Berman
Actors: Damien Carr, Taylor Beadle-Williams, Brendon Taylor, Leigh Scully
Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting is one of the defining cultural landmarks of the 1990s. From novel, to play, and eventually to the blockbusting hit film, its immense popularity and pervasiveness in landscapes the world over is testament not only to the quality of work by artists involved, but also to the way its story has resonated and subsequently appropriated as a sign of the times.
Black Box Theatre’s staging of the 1994 Harry Gibson adaptation seems, on the surface, to be an exercise in nostalgia. It is entirely too predictable to have a group of Gen-Y enthusiasts take on a cult classic that pushes the boundaries of decency, but what they have created is a work that is surprisingly relevant, and very well crafted indeed. Luke Berman’s direction is exciting, colourful and crisp. Scenes move along quickly but clearly, as though injected with adrenaline. The action is heightened and dynamic, but sentiments are always elucidated. Berman has a sensitivity that ensures the text’s many controversial elements are handled circumspectly, with just the right amount of restraint that keeps bad taste from turning unacceptable.
Berman’s cast is truly impressive. They are a fearless and captivating foursome, whose love for the art of performance is absolutely evident. By taking on multiple roles, they all receive significant stage time and are able to showcase creative versatility, but we are not always able to identify the characters being played, although it must be said, that this does not seem to alter the enjoyment of the work. Damien Carr plays Mark, the protagonist and narrator of the piece. The duality of simultaneously narrating the story and performing the scenes being described is fascinating, and Carr does a stellar job of it. He is on stage for virtually the entire duration, and is able to provide a consistently focused energy that keeps us engaged and involved. Taylor Beadle-Williams is magnificent in her roles. There is often a baroque exuberance in her work that articulates perfectly the aesthetic of Welsh’s hallucinatory world, but at the core of her performance is a fixation on truth, which gives all her characters a beautiful empathy that is irresistible.
Drug abuse and the “junkie” subculture is sadly, not a relic of the past. Trainspotting‘s articulation of that underworld satisfies our curiosity, telling us about the fringe dwellers who reside on our peripheries. We are reminded that the world is a shared one, and our beliefs about life are often fundamentally the same. Even when our values diverge, and our judgemental minds divide us, it is our common humanity that allows us to look into the experience of others, drawing parallels where they exist, and discovering through these diversities what is enduring, and what actually matters.