Credit: BFI

Trainspotting…the musical?

By Helena Geddes

Helena Geddes introduces the hotly anticipated adaptation you didn’t think would ever happen.

Trainspotting is set to get a new lick of paint after Irvine Welsh recently revealed his plans to turn the infamous novel into a West End musical. Welsh himself will be taking the lead in the adaptation, collaborating with songwriting partner Steve McGuinness and producer Phil McIntyre.

After Danny Boyle’s highly anticipated take on the cult classic burst onto cinema screens in 1996, Trainspotting has become synonymous with its truly iconic soundtrack. The carefully curated sounds perfectly encapsulate the late 80s British music scene, including a variety of artists from Iggy Pop to New Order, Leftfield, and Underworld. A soundtrack like this should be a tough act to follow, however, Welsh has already disclosed that he and McGuinness have created 14 new songs for the musical. He told the Daily Record that they had “stepped up to write urban house, blues, jazz, disco and rock ‘n’ roll songs and power ballads”. Although this suggests that the musical will move away from the iconic beats now synonymous with the storyline, it will be exciting to hear Welsh and McGuinness’ new musical creations and how they contend in the West End sphere.

Casting actors for roles that have been played so flawlessly by those in the film will be an unenviable task. Audiences are quick to compare cast members to their film counterparts, and it is difficult to imagine someone other than Robert Carlyle bottling lassies in a Begbie-style psychotic rage. There is lots of fresh talent out there, however, and it will be interesting to see a new lease of life given to the timeless characters. 

In order for the musical version of Trainspotting to be a success, it will need to capture the most harrowing parts of the story and immerse the audience into both the desperation and elation that defines a life of heroin abuse. Of course, drugs ruin lives but Danny Boyle did an outstanding job of showcasing just why people took them. The infamously gruesome scene in which Renton dives into “The Worst Toilet in Scotland” to retrieve his opium suppositories is imperative to this narrative, depicting both the unbeatable highs of scoring and the incredible lows. Scenes like these would need to translate well on stage, to ensure that the musical does not become a depressing story about drug addicts.

Trainspotting has been hailed as “generation-defining”, but at a glance it is difficult to determine how so many could relate to a harrowing tale about heroin abuse. Look closer at the story, however, and you soon realise that it is the consequences of life under Thatcherism that appeals to the masses. In 2022, young people are still struggling against a society that offers rising house prices and inflation, but a dearth of opportunity. The story is still as relevant as it was in the late 1990s, appealing to older fans and younger generations who are yet to be sucked in.

Currently, there is nowhere near enough Scottish representation in the West End. It is yet to be determined whether the musical will live up to expectations, but with Irvine Welsh at the helm, it is almost guaranteed to be a hit.


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