We all know the dark and sordid tale of Trainspotting – a story not many would attempt to tackle, especially when bringing it to the stage. So why did Canberra-born director and producer Adam Spreadbury-Maher (who has a strong background in opera) take on such a harrowing story?
Well… why not? The stage is a place where, as Shakespeare said in Hamlet, we hold a mirror to our audience and if something’s going on inside you, it should definitely be on the stage, particularly if it’s a problem, it should be talked about on the stage.”
Although published 24 years ago, Trainspotting’s theme of rampant, life-consuming drug addiction still remains a key social issue that many societies face today, including, as Spreadbury-Maher noted, Australia’s growing epidemic of Ice addiction. The play explores the reasons and consequences surrounding drug abuse:
“Drug addiction ends in death, right? But it doesn’t start that way – it starts with a lot of fun. When people start taking drugs they don’t do it because it’s horrible, they do it because they’re having a great time and feel fantastic. The thing about addiction is that it’s a progressive illness – it starts great and ends really badly.”
Spreadbury-Maher’s direction mimics this journey beginning the show with an underground rave where the audience are given glow sticks and get to let loose to “banging nineties club anthems”. The characters are also introduced in humorous ways and fun is used as a gentle means to draw the audience into what become their harrowingly destructive lives.
Drawing from real-life inspiration, Spreadbury-Maher used his experiences partying in Sydney’s nineties “chemical club scene”, and then moving to London in the early noughties and witnessing the tail-end of the intense, heroin-fuelled rave wave to authenticate the feel of Trainspotting’s drug induced era.
Former drug-users coached the dedicated cast of “working class actors” to help them understand the true nature of drug addiction and the priorities of using, where the objective is always to get the drug – get the heroin.
“Every now and then we do get recovering addicts coming in and seeing the show and talking to the cast about the technicalities and effects of using. We’ve approached it head-on basically, and just like the actors are all authentically from Edinburgh we do our best to create an authentic representation of heroin addiction on stage.”
Spreadbury-Maher steers well and truly clear of the traditional theatre experience where the fourth wall is evidently clear. He creates a different form of engagement with the audience; “You’re part of it, you’re there – we rely on you. We’re going to give you something where you’re critical – an actor might fall into your lap, maybe something from a toilet will land on you or maybe someone will grab your drink and drink it”. As worrying as this might sound, Spreadbury-Maher reassures us that it’s quite exciting and that there is nothing to be worried about. His hot tip though: don’t wear white (and don’t worry, it will wash out).
For this director, his interpretation of Trainspotting offers a contemporary audience a modern theatrical and thought-provoking experience:
“An appreciation of Irvine Welsh’s beautiful language and poetry, and to look at drama in a different way, that isn’t just about old traditional comedies and tragedies, and that you can take a story like this and keep it relevant”
“It’s nice to talk about addiction. It is a huge national/international epidemic and it’s an opportunity for young people, or anyone really to talk about (and) to think about it.”
“I want people to go away feeling like they’ve seen a bloody good show, feel like they’ve got bang for their buck”.
As T2 Trainspotting (the next instalment in the Trainspotting story) hits our screens mid-February we’ll discover the paths our troubled Edinburgh characters have stumbled down. Before this though you can revisit their sordid beginnings in what sounds like a thrilling and truly immersive theatre experience with Trainspotting (Live). Grab your glow sticks – it sounds like we’re in for a wild ride!
Interviewed by Georgina Smerd
Venue: Station Underground, Secret CBD Location
Season: 17th February – 19th March
Duration: 75 mins
Tickets: $39 – $45