Theatre review: Trainspotting at Progres Theatre

Published: 16 Mar 2014 07:300 comments

IT’S hard not to warm to Mark Renton, AKA Rentboy, our guide on a tour of the grimy, grim and vomit-spattered underbelly of Edinburgh that the tourist rarely see.

Owen Goode at Franco Begbie in Progress Theatre's Trainspotting

Owen Goode at Franco Begbie in Progress Theatre's Trainspotting

In Progress Theatre’s production of Trainspotting, Renton is played by Warwick Manning as a mix of carefree high spirits and devastating jadedness, with a foul mouth and regularly even fouler behaviour; a uni drop-out heroin addict running amok with his friends in the backstreets, shooting galleries and dodgy pubs of Scotland’s capital city. Renton loves a “great story”, so it seems appropriate that Progress Theatre has done a stellar job of bringing Harry Gibson’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel to the stage, with a cracking soundtrack to boot.

There’s a lot of foul behaviour in Trainspotting, played out against the backdrop of a dingy, disused train station (which morphs during the play into a bar, a squat, and – with the help of a couple of buckets – a bus), but it’s a testament to Welsh’s darkly comic tale, the work of director Matt Tully and the cast that the audience can sympathise with all of them. Even as Alison (Nicola Howe) spikes the soup of misogynist louts and Renton sprays liquid faeces over the breakfast table of a suburban family, you’re rooting for them. Except for Begbie, that is. Played with relish by Owen Goode, sociopath Begbie is a compact coiled spring of potential violence, spraying the audience with scattergun Scots dialect, liberally spattered with the c-word.

There are stomach-churning moments a-plenty in this production - played out with the help of some appropriately nauseating sound effects - and plenty to upset the more sensitive: from genuinely shocking violence to drug-taking and nudity. But none of it feels gratuitous, and the moments that truly shock are often the least dramatic: Renton, steeped in addiction, responding to a friend’s devastating loss by blithely piping up “I’m cooking up!”, and the audience squirming in the knowledge of the horror to come as Tommy (Luke Hereford) takes the first seeminly small step towards a devastating heroin addiction. But there is also light: as you silently cheer along to Alison’s feisty put-downs; the friends’ ecstasy-fuelled night at the funfair, played out with the aid of a whirling sofa and a squirrel costume; and, of course the characters’ complete lack of giving a toss what anyone thinks of them.

Trainspotting is not, as the company says, a play for the easily shocked. But while audiences can expect to squirm in their seats at times, there are also laugh-out-loud moments - and in filtering through the often-stoned philosophising of the characters, perhaps some food for thought, too. I recommend you see it – but perhaps don’t bring your grandma.

Trainspotting is at Progress Theatre from Monday until Saturday, March 22. Tickets cost £11.20 from or call 0118 960 6060. Visit

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