Inside the London stage debut of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting

Gavin Ross (Mark Renton) in Trainspotting. Picture: Edinburgh Photography

Gavin Ross (Mark Renton) in Trainspotting. Picture: Edinburgh Photography - Credit: Archant

Director Greg Esplin talks to Alex Bellotti about the riotous show that’s already made 27 audience members faint.

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family, and then, if these references mean anything to you, choose to get down to the King’s Head Theatre from March 17 for the stage adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel, Trainspotting.

Following an acclaimed run at the Edinburgh fringe, In Your Face Theatre Company is reviving Harry Gibson’s original play for its London debut. Telling the story of Mark Renton and his friends within the Edinburgh heroin scene of the 1980s, the hour and 10 minute show is staged in promenade style, so the audience becomes immersed in the action from the start as they form the crowd of a “pre-90s garage rave”.

“It’s basically a hard hitting hour,” says director Greg Esplin, 22, who also plays the character of Tommy. “We want it to almost feel like a hit of drugs, where you come in and it hits you, and you leave thinking, ‘What was that?’”

Many will know the story from Danny Boyle’s classic 1996 film adaptation, which featured a young cast of newcomers such as Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Kelly Macdonald.

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While the play will still pick from the movie’s best moments, Esplin says they have also drawn heavily from the novel.

“The book’s a lot grittier than the film actually, but we also keep a lot of references to the film because obviously the audience love that. It’s about finding the right balance so that people are coming along and seeing what they want to see, but they’re also getting a nice surprise and come away saying, ‘That was Trainspotting, but that was actually a bit darker than what we expected.’”

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Incredibly, the Edinburgh festival run shocked audiences so much it resulted in 27 people fainting: “I don’t know if it’s a bad thing, but we never once stopped because the cast were so well trained for that. If someone fainted, it would be a case of moving the audience to a different part of the room to allow the first aiders in. You’d see them starting to breath a bit heavier, it was just mad.”

Notably, Welsh was initially very resistant to the idea of a film adaptation, but Esplin reveals the writer couldn’t have been more supportive about bringing the play to London. In part, this was down to the fact that the cast is entirely Scottish and as an Edinburgh based company, they are more than familiar with the area of Leith depicted in the book.

This certainly showed last year – Welsh was apparently “blown away by it” and indeed audiences as a whole flocked to see it in a near sell out run.

Esplin adds: “Sometimes people are scared to touch the big titles unless they’ve got the big names. We are in the grand scheme of things a very small, new theatre company and it’s exciting to take on the big risks because we could have just absolutely flopped, got terrible reviews and that would have been the end of us.”

At a time when the effects of recession are still lingering hard, Trainspotting if anything seems more relevant than it might have 10 years ago.

Even 22 years on from the novel’s release, Leith still faces many of the same problems and it is this mirroring of reality that has secured the story’s place in British hearts.

“Scottish people obviously love seeing Scotland, but [the film] was almost them standing up against the government,” says Esplin. “It was a reaction to say, ‘This is what’s going on, this is happening right now, this isn’t just a film because this is actually happening in Edinburgh.’

“It’s timeless basically. Trainspotting will live for ever and it should, rightly so, because it’s always going to be relevant.”

Trainspotting runs at the King’s Head Theatre from March 17 until April 11. Visit

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