It might seem a foolish undertaking to mount a stage production of Irvine Welsh’s cult novel about the denizens of the 1980s Edinburgh heroin scene, especially when Danny Boyle’s 1996 film, featuring a star-making turn by the then virtually unknown Ewan MacGregor, looms so large, but Harry Gibson’s stage adaptation of the book actually predates the film. Naturally, there are similarities between them, including much of the dialogue, but the play is structured differently and some characters have larger roles.
Roger Mathey directed the award-winning first L.A. production in 2002 and returns to helm this revival at the Elephant Theatre in Hollywood, accompanied by actors David Agranov, Matt Tully and Justin Zachary. Gibson’s adaptation was originally to be played by four actors, but Mathey received permission to expand the cast to 19 to better dramatize the exposition.
In the play, the character of Mark Renton (Zachary) serves primarily as the first-person narrator, interacting with the audience as well as other characters, including Sick Boy (Jonathan Roumie), Tommy (Agranov), Johnny “Mother Superior” Swan (Martin J. Riddell), and Alison (Alison Walter). The Mudge character, played by Ewen Bremner in the film, is not present in the stage production, so Tommy and Alison have larger roles. Alison’s character benefits the most from the expansion. In the film, she’s depicted as a victim, but here she reveals a streetwise charm and resilience.
How, you may ask, can a story about hopeless heroin addicts be any fun to watch? Well, it’s the characters. Zachary is clearly at home with Renton, having worked with him before, as is Agranov as Tommy. Tullie does Begbie proud with his filthy, nearly-incomprehensible tirades, and Walter is a deevil-eyed hoot as Alison. Katy Townshend is a mischeivous Diane, Mark’s jailbait love interest. There are many other characters marching through this heavily populated but well-organized production. Note that alternates perform on Sundays with the exception of Zachary.
And this production pulls no punches. Be prepared for an evening packed with countless expletives, frequent nudity, and simulated sex and bodily functions.
I’m frequently impressed with the resourcefulness of tiny Hollywood theaters, and this production is no exception. Jason Rupert’s spare but utiitarian staging—all black with graffitied walls—is complemented by James Dethlefsen and Brian Palla’s sound design, original music and well-chosen period songs.
Trainspotting plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through April 13th at the Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard. Tickets can be obtained here or by calling (323) 960-7785.