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Review: Swearing, shooting up and shitty sheets, it's Trainspotting at the King's Head

Gavin Ross in Trainspotting. Photo: Christopher Tribble

It is dark as you enter the King's Head theatre with your hand stamped and a glow stick. Nineties club music pounds out and laser lights show up a group of bodies pulsating in time to the music. If you couldn't just about make out the people sat on chairs and steps or standing wherever they can find space you'd think you'd stumbled into the wrong place.  Someone tries to usher to you towards a seat you can't make out; we are a long way from the blue-rinse brigade of the Hampstead Theatre now.

If you haven't seen the iconic film (or read the novel) about a group of heroin addicts living in recession hit Edinburgh this may all come as a bit of a shock and be a little bit confusing. If you are familiar with the story this explosive and immersive play will probably still come as a bit of a shock. Certainly it isn't for those who like to sit back and quietly enjoy a night at the theatre.

The story of the addicts everyday life and Renton's (Gavin Ross) fight to get off drugs takes place all around you. Sometimes in the performance space sometimes in gaps in the audience, sometimes right next to you as you are transported from pub, to home, to job interview, to train carriage. And there is nothing you can do but be dragged into it.

Actors will swear in your face in the pub scenes in a 'what are you looking at?' sort of way. They'll stumble or crawl through that non existent gap between you and the person next to you, take your belongings and then discard them, they may even flirt with you. You may be splattered with Buckfast or with the contents of the infamous toilet or be smothered in the equally infamous shit-stained sheet.

Harry Gibson's adaptation of the novel retains all the iconic moments but I couldn't help thinking that the film looks like a ballet in comparison to this. And I think that can be a bit of a problem. The play  feels like a series of loosely connected, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing vignettes. You sit waiting for the famous scenes. The nub of the story and characterisation get lost amid everything that is going on around you and who might be 'immersed' next.

It is a play to experience if you are brave enough but one that despite its immersive staging you ultimately remain detached from. It's a play I'll vividly remember as an experience more than for the narrative.

Get there early for the best choice of seats, those arriving last ended up perched on the stage and then being moved from spot to spot as the action moved.  I wouldn't say there are any 100% safe seats which probably delights some and horrifies others. This certainly isn't a play that is for the mainstream theatre lover and certainly isn't for the easily shocked or offended.

Trainspotting is 65 minutes long and runs at the King's Head Theatre until April 11.