Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Trainspotting

Mark Goucher Ltd & St Elmo Productions Ltd. , Sherman Theatre Cardiff , February-08-06
Trainspotting by Mark Goucher Ltd & St Elmo Productions Ltd. Many of the people in the packed house at the Sherman’s Venue 1 were only about ten years old when this belting, subversive and dazzling story first hit the headlines in 1996. They all relished and roared with laughter at this dark and sharply observed examination of the underbelly of life in the back streets of Edinburgh. Or, sadly, the back streets of anywhere in Western Europe today. Through his writing Irvine Welsh has travelled from this mire to millionaire status; whether or not Harry Gibson’s hilarious and ironic dramatisation of his world best selling novel is a morality play with a message for its new eager audience is difficult to say.

It does seem to me to be more a celebration of the worst excesses of the saddest reflections of young human beings that I, cocooned in my Pontcanna environment, could possibly imagine, not that there aren’t people like this not much more than just a few yards from where I write. Taken as the blackest of black comedies it undoubtedly makes a fine piece of theatre and, and I have to say for me, sadly a very sharp and amusing comedy.

Welsh’s novel consists of a number of inter-linked stories. Peter Milne giving an intelligent and robust performance, comes on first and tell us his tale, by the end of the play his references here to vomit and excrement have almost become the norm compared to all the other degradations we are introduced to as the play progresses. His stand-up Tommy Cooperish delivery is repeated by Ruaraidh Murray who joins him to continue the opening double act. Murray’s portrayal of Tommy Murphy journeying from bright and bewildered young man to his tragic ending is an exemplary acting performance. The actors have to strike a difficult balance between a Brechtian theatricality and realism, in this despite the undoubted professionalism of every member of the cast they don’t always, to my mind, entirely succeed. Laura Harvey is the most successful and comes across with the deepest conviction and realism. This makes me wonder whether or not a more realistic approach to the work might not have had an even more penetrating effect. Certainly Milne is at his strongest in his more sensitive moments.

Gibson, however has determined to sail down the middle route, as is exemplified when Brian Alexander takes a rest from his hardest of the hard men role, which he performs with all the bravura of a pantomime villain, to don a wig and become Mark’s desperate mother. The unique tenderness in this scene succeeds enormously thus I guess making his case.

Used tampons squeezed into tomato soup, excrement in the profiteer roles, on stage bowel voiding and urination, lots of needles in arms leading to a naked Tommy injecting into his groin, drive this uncompromising tale home. It is a nasty world, there really does not seem to be any hope for anybody. Yet between them there is some understanding and sensitivity and even a spot of care. It was both a big evening of laughter and a big evening of despair.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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