Trainspotting play 'darker than the film'

JON WELCH You may have seen the film and you may even have read the book, but the cult stage version of Trainspotting is even more extreme. JON WELCH spoke to one of its stars, Ruaraidh Murray, ahead of the play’s arrival in Norwich.


It started off as a cult novel and became one of the defining movies of the 1990s. Now Trainspotting is coming to the Norwich stage.

The play details the lives of a group of friends and charts the disintegration of their friendship as heroin addiction takes hold.

It's said to be more extreme than both Irvine Welsh's 1993 novel and the 1996 film version, starring Ewan McGregor - and features 147 uses of the C-word alone.

Adapted and directed by Harry Gibson, the play is coming to Norwich Playhouse 10 years after its premiere.

Coincidentally, the Playhouse will also be celebrating its 10th anniversary later this year.

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“The Playhouse is very excited to be involved in this new touring production of Trainspotting,” says general manager Caroline Richardson.

“The themes are just as relevant today as they were in the mid-'90s and this shockingly funny cult play is strong stuff - a must-see for young adults of today.”

Among the play's stars is 30-year-old Ruaraidh Murray, who grew up in Edinburgh where the story is set.

He was well aware of the city's real-life drugs and Aids problems, which provide the backdrop for the play.

“I remember when heroin first hit Edinburgh on a huge scale. There were lots of break-ins and robberies - it was a very dark time,” he says.

“Your mates' big brothers had gone down that route, which was very sad. There is a reality there.”

Trainspotting revealed a seamy side to the Scottish capital that many visitors would never have been aware of, but for Ruaraidh - pronounced “Roory” - the film rang true.

He remembers shoplifters being chased down Edinburgh's famous Princes Street, just as Ewan McGregor is in the film's memorable opening sequence.

Despite the play's grim subject matter, there is some black humour at work.

“The humour's very prominent, otherwise we would have people throwing themselves off the balcony,” says Ruaraidh.

“I'd say the play is more like the book than the film. The humour is a lot darker, more shocking and closer to the bone, I think.

“Obviously, in the film it's all about the money and the drug deal, but the play is more about the structuring of a group of friends and how their friendship is destroyed by heroin.

“It's taking you to sadder parts but the writers keep the pace going, so it's like a rollercoaster taking you up and down.

“It doesn't stop for a moment, right till the end. It's a bit like a train veering out of control.”

Trainspotting had a huge cultural impact that was felt especially keenly in Edinburgh itself.

“It brought something to the city: it was such a good piece of writing and such a well-made film,” says Ruaraidh.

“I remember being up early one morning and seeing a builder, not with the Sun but with a copy of Trainspotting in his back pocket.”

Ruaraidh's acting career began at the age of 10 when he had a small part alongside John Hannah in a Channel 4 film.

In Trainspotting, Ruaraidh plays Tommy. “He's a tragic-comic character,” he explains.

“His girlfriend leaves him and he turns to smack and that's when it spirals out of control. He's a happy-go-lucky character who goes down the wrong route. “He's great for me to play as an actor because it's going from one extreme to another.”

Tommy was played in the film by Kevin McKidd. Did Ruaraidh study his performance closely?

“No, I didn't. I wanted to make the part my own,” he says.

“I looked at people I grew up with and based it on them.”

Irvine Welsh's book was written in Edinburgh vernacular, which takes some getting used to for anyone not familiar with the local dialect.

Similar language features in the play, although Ruaraidh is confident theatre-goers will understand it. “Certain pronunciations and other things we will try to make clearer, but it's essentially the same.”

Ruaraidh feels Trainspotting has lost none of its power in the past decade or so.

“It's no-hold-barred,” he says.

“I do feel it's still relevant: Channel 4 had that late-night programme recently with people trying to come off heroin.”

The play, which began its run in London in January, has been well received so far, attracting some people not usually seen in a theatre.

“We've had young people turning out who'd usually be going clubbing or to football, and people coming up afterwards and telling us how much they liked it,” says Ruaraidh.

He's enjoying it, too. “I'm loving it, man,” he says.

The play's run has already taken it to Edinburgh, which was a particular thrill for Ruaraidh.

“Twenty-seven of my pals came on the first night and my mum and all my family,” he says.

Ruaraidh's role as Tommy does involve him taking his clothes off. So what's it like stripping off when your mum's in the audience?

“That was interesting,” he laughs. “'All right, mum? It's been a long time…'”

Trainspotting is at Norwich Playhouse at 8pm from Monday March 20 to Saturday, March 25. Tickets, priced £17.50 (£14/£10 concessions), are available from the box office on 01603 598598. The play contains nudity and some scenes that may shock and is recommended for people aged 16 and over.