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‘Where to start with Trainspotting?’ asks Greg Esplin

Where to start with Trainspotting? For most people growing up in Scotland, Trainspotting is engrained in the culture along side Irn-Bru, Haggis and being underachievers in sports but never losing hope. For me, I feel like it’s been one of the main parts of my life from my teens to mid-twenties.  That’s because I’ve been lucky enough to have co-directed and performed in ‘Trainspotting Live’ since 2013. 

Although the movie is very much engrained in Scottish culture, the story is – unfortunately – one that rings too true with people all over the world.  The issue and themes of addiction and domestic abuse are just as prevalent in almost every town in city across the world as they were when it was written back in 1993. Trainspotting starts in a post-Thatcher working-class society, very much feeling the effect of Conservative austerity: not a far cry from what’s going on at the moment, in fact. This is why putting something like Trainspotting on stage cannot be taken lightly. It is not a pretend made-up world where people can disengage and forget about the world outside, it’s the opposite. It’s all too real.

One of the first things I did when we started off this journey was to make sure we all – as a cast – understood the ins and outs of addiction. We spoke with charities and invited recovering addicts to come along to speak with the cast. The main thing that kept coming up again and again was how people were sick of seeing drug addiction being dressed up “for Hollywood” on screen and even on stage. If we were to do it justice it has to be so honest and true to the people who are actually effected by drugs and alcohol abuse. This is something we made sure has been the backbone of our production of Trainspotting.

I started my theatre company – In Your Face Theatre – in 2012 as an immersive ensemble. I truly feel theatre has one major advantage over TV and film: the fact that we can interact with our audiences. To be able to smash fourth walls and talk to the audience, immersing them in the world of the play, is an element of theatre that is all too often overlooked.  

Of course it would have been easier to put Trainspotting on stage in a traditional setting and most people would have been happy enough to see the movie on stage. However, I just don’t see the point. The film already exists, so if it’s not going to be a stand-alone production and just be a carbon copy then why bother? The main reason we wanted to make Trainspotting immersive was that we did not want to hide the ugliness of addiction. Our staging is so close to the audience that they are forced to watch. Too much in today’s society looks away from the issues of addiction and domestic abuse that a lot of people know nothing about it. We’ve had audience members tell us they hated the production, only to email us a few days later saying they loved it and actually what they hated, was the way it made them confront their own feelings on the subject matter. 

So please, come rave with us in Trainspotting. Give us a chance to show you how good immersive theatre can be. If you don’t believe me then consider what Irvine Welsh said - “It’s the best way to experience Trainspotting”. Grab a pint, a glow stick, try not to sit next to ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ and maybe don’t wear white.

Greg Esplin

27 Mar – 20 May
The Vaults, Waterloo, London