Review: Trainspotting, The Vaults

The new production is a shocking slice of immersive theatre in an atmospheric tunnel

The famous (and in this production shockingly hilarious) toilet scene. Photo: Andreas Grieger
The famous (and in this production shockingly hilarious) toilet scene. Photo: Andreas Grieger
If you were at college in the mid-90s, as I was, the film Trainspotting was inescapable, its poster a true badge of honour on aby student wall.

Unbelievably now two decades have passed, and ahead of the release of the sequel, is this very 2016 phenomenon, an “immersive” theatre adaptation.

The set is perfect – the railway arch venue, the Vaults, deep under Waterloo station, 90s club music blasting out as the audience takes their seats, dancers losing it at a rave. Or at least, doing their best to appear like they are.

The story? The not-so-simple tale of a group of friends living through the late 80s Edinburgh heroin scene – Renton, Tommy, Sick Boy, Begbie and Alison. It’s more than brought to life in a 75 minute onslaught of fast-paced quips and the odd poetic take on life here and there.

Drugs aplenty. Photo: Andreas Grieger
Drugs aplenty. Photo: Andreas Grieger
This transfer, from the original Harry Gibson play (which is closer to the book than the glossier narrative of the film) marks the first collaboration between the King’s Head Theatre and Seabright Productions, the Olivier Award winning commercial producers behind shows such as Showstopper! The Improvised Musical and Potted Potter.

The cast are undeniably bold and talented, especially 23 year-old Gavin Ross’ Renton; and, with its ribald nudity, relentless shoutiness and extreme scatological humour (the infamous ‘toilet’ scene is a sight to behold), it still more than retains its power to shock.

In fact, most memorable – scenes of drug-taking and violence aside – is the, um, fake excrement. (Put it this way, you’ll be lucky if you don’t get a bare bum in front of your face, or a shitty towel flung in your direction.)

Powerful (and funny) though the show is, our one issue is really with its immersive nature. Do we need to watch another audience member squirm as they’re pulled randomly on stage? What does such participation actually add? Or does it create a distancing effect, making it harder to empathise with the characters as the story darkens?

Worth pondering. Still, it’s a riotous production, with the spirit and verve of good stand-up comedy – even if, as a piece of angular theatre, it doesn’t cut quite as hard as it might.

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Trainspotting at The Vaults, Launcelot Street SE1 7AD, until 15th January 2017 (Tue to Sun). Tickets here 

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