Volume 91, Issue 76

Thursday, February 12, 1998



Scottish humour with a smack of death

©Gary Beechey
IF A TRAIN IS TRAVELLING TOWARDS FOUR ACTORS AT 70 MPH, DOES ACTRA COLLECT ROYALTIES? Cast of Tainspotting Josh Peace, Deborah, Shaun Smyth and Paulino Nunes are bound for success, depending on what happened after this picture was taken.

By Carey Weinberg
Gazette Staff

If the book turned your stomach and the movie made you ill, then the play will pluck at your gut-strings and reverberate to the tune of nausea. Welcome to the theatrical rendition of Trainspotting.

The Canadian Stage Company in Toronto snared an electric play that flashes with dark and light dramatic moments and takes the audience on a drug-induced roller coaster ride through heroin hell.

The sickness pervading Trainspotting is palpable, the fourth wall is obliterated and through all this, humour somehow pokes through the ugly, rearing head of the characters' pathetic lives.

A minimalist set allows for the story and the acting to take centre stage. Since it is such a gripping tale, anything glitzy would have definitely been superfluous. In the wake of large theatre productions with huge budgets, lots of flash, smoke and mirrors, it's refreshing to participate in a theatre experience where the strength comes from a good story, solid acting and clever staging.

Part of what separates the play from the movie is the narrative strategy. Most of the point of view in the film version comes from Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), but a multiple narrative strategy is employed in the play adaptation. Shaun Smyth plays Renton with superb poignancy, humourous delicacy and a proper amount of understatement. In the play, Renton slips into background giving each of the talented cast a chance to shine. In the Toronto production, understudy Linda Prystowska, usually played by Deborah Pollitt, gives spark to the role of Alison who is significant and not simply a token female as in the movie. She is given a chance to tell her stories instead of being relegated to the periphery – and Prystawska executed these stories with a shady charm and a sardonic bite.

Trainspotting's cast execute the roles fluidly and believably. Usually affectations become distracting and audience members find themselves keeping tabs on how many times the actors botch the dialect, but the Scottish accents come across almost flawlessly.

Paulino Nunes deftly plays Franco Begbie with enough bravado to make him hateable, yet enough humour to make him tolerable. Nunes also plays a couple other minor roles with the same dexterity as with his principal role.

The content of the play could have very easily fallen prey to pure shock value, but this rendition bridges the gap between ugly, dirty and foul without succumbing to gratuitous acts of sex and violence. The bridge is built with raw, non-judgmental, non-preachy material which allows the audience to witness the stories without any trimmings. It's bold, nasty, disturbingly sexy and brutish, yet funny.

Trainspotting is not for the easily offended. There's nudity, course language, vomiting, death and mature subject matter. Dream-like sequences provide plenty of quirky surreal moments which keep the play vital and not too heavy – in light of its subject matter: death, addiction and AIDS.

The plight of Tommy, played brilliantly by Josh Peace, offers an empathetic audience member no peace at all.

"Twenty times better than any orgasm," is a line repeated throughout which illustrates the sexual nature of heroin. Audiences can not misconstrue this as a glorification of the drug. Witnessing Tommy's descent into heroin addiction and AIDS capped off perfectly by a horrifying scene where he injects the drug into his penis for lack of available veins. This jarring scene symbolically encapsulates the sexual connection to heroin in all its failed glory.

If you get a chance, hop on board this train. You're sure to walk away with a little emotion sickness and a bit of a smile on your face. Trainspotting is quickly turning into a cult classic.

The Gazette will be giving away tickets to this show within the next week so stay tuned to this Gazette station.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1998