Off the Wall Theatre stages Harry Gibson's adaptation with unnerving, incredible results.
At first, Off the Wall Theatre’s stage adaptation of Trainspotting feels a little too intimate. Most of the seats are essentially in the set, and the actors frequently make eye contact with patrons. The actors, directed by Jeremy C. Welter, deliver monologues as conversation. But just a few minutes in, the close proximity feels natural. The performances are right there, making every moment raw and captivating.
The intensity of Trainspotting rises from the content. Drug addiction is intense. But the performances make this play.
They speak with Edinburgh-specific accents and slang. Get the accents wrong, there goes the show. But these actors nailed it. In fact, the delivery of “Scotticisms” was so perfect that it was difficult at times to follow.
Especially impressive is the sheer bulk of speech. The story follows Mark Renton, played by Luke Walaszek, through his life as a heroin addict. Walaszek serves as narrator and speaks almost constantly. We feel connected to Mark almost immediately — he’s charming, complicated, funny, lewd, and deeply afflicted. He cares about his friends; despite his addiction, he’s a good guy. Walaszek does a fantastic job painting a character with great depth and heart.
We meet Mark’s long-time friends Franco Begbie and Tommy Murphy. Jim Donaldson is terrific as Begbie, the mustached, kind of gross, really loud buddy. Tommy (Kurtis Witzlsteiner) is Trainspotting’s sympathetic character—he doesn’t shoot heroin, he’s thin as a rail, and he has bad luck with the ladies. The three actors interact flawlessly as they share typically manly, gross sex stories and reminisce about crazy adventures.
One of the best scenes comes during a flashback delivered by Mark. The scene is set at Johnny Swan’s (Donaldson, in a second role) place, where Mark and his friend Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Witzlsteiner, likewise) have come to shoot up. At first, Walaszek serves as narrator, standing to the back of the set while Donaldson and Witzlsteiner prepare the needle on the floor. We’re introduced to Alison (Jocelyn Ridgley) here, adding another incredible performer.
Walaszek describes heroin’s high: “Take your best orgasm, multiply it by 20, and you’re still not there,” he says. Alison says it’s “better than any meat injection.” You believe it’s the best experience ever, while also knowing they’re all in serious trouble.
I won’t say exactly what happens, but it happens so slowly and is so unsettling that you can almost hear the audience thinking “no…is he? NO…” Mark and Begbie look on in horror. Alison doesn’t move from fetal position. Horrifying.
In another especially potent scene, Tommy decides he wants to try heroin. Mark struggles with the request, before finally giving in and administering the hit to Tommy. Alison enters, and she and Tommy hallucinate a carnival within the run-down apartment. Mark dismisses their lunacy at first, then joins in the fun. Begbie enters as they’re beside themselves with laughter, imagining the couch as a roller coaster. He stands wordless and utterly perplexed.
Such moments are the genius in this play: The sadness of drug addiction lurks beneath every event and interaction, even when the characters are laughing.
Although all of the actors deliver outstanding monologues, two stand out. Walaszek has a solo at the funeral of Mark’s brother, who died in service in a car bombing in Northern Ireland. He speaks with deep hatred, re-enacting an argument with his Uncle. He also recaps a graphic sex scene in which he banged his brother’s pregnant widow in the bathroom at the funeral. Strangely, instead of repulsion, these stories build sympathy for Mark, as a deeply troubled individual.
Ridgely grabs the spotlight toward the end of the show, when she regales the audience with a story of female empowerment. She acts out a story from her friend Lizzie, who stood up to a few foul-mouthed construction workers. Her passion is electrifying, and I found myself thinking “Hell yeah, I’m a woman. We’re awesome. Who needs men?” Ridgely the actress and Jocelyn the character hold more than their own against their male counterparts.
If there’s one thing I hate, it’s when a play interjects explicit language for no reason. Expletives riddle Harry Gibson’s Trainspotting script (after Irvine Welsh’s novel), but they are so natural and honest that they disappear, in a way. The language is what it is, what it must be.
Trainspotting runs through Nov. 4. Visit the Off the Wall Theatre website for further information.
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