Dark tale resurfaces dramatically on stage

Thursday, May 18, 2006
The Arizona Republic

For anyone who doesn't see the point in watching a stage adaptation of such an indelible film as Trainspotting, Stray Cat Theatre has some convincing answers.

First, the play was actually adapted from Irvine Welsh's novel before
the film, and the two interpretations could hardly be more different.
Some of the same things happen, but not in the same order and not
always to the same characters. The film's Spud and Tommy, for example,
are just Tommy onstage.

More important, the tone of the play is darker. This might surprise
fans of the movie, which has plenty of violence and grotesquerie in its
portrait of poverty and heroin addiction among disaffected Scottish
youth. But the film is also funnier, more whimsical and more ambiguous
in its ending. The play, which inscribes an entirely different dramatic
arc, ends exactly where it begins, in filth and degradation.

It's enough to make you run out and buy the book. But whichever
adaptation is more faithful to the novel, both achieve their power by
exploiting the unique opportunities of their respective mediums. Each
is surreal, but not in the same way.

In the hands of Ron May, artistic director of Stray Cat, Trainspotting truly
becomes a stage creation. Actors slip into secondary roles, creating
strange subconscious associations, as when the physically imposing Cale
Epps, who plays the violent Begbie, puts on an apron to become a
smothering mother.

With no access to moving sets or special
effects, the actors must set changing moods on their own - at one point
three of them are lined up, faces alight with glee, arms pressed
against the wall with the imaginary centrifugal force of a carnival
ride. It's a moment that's far more effective and evocative than the
same scene would be, played straight, on film.

The very best thing about this Trainspotting,
however, is its star, Kyle Sorrell as Mark Renton. Taking on the role
made famous by Ewan McGregor, he makes it his own with a powerful
charisma and real pathos. Sorrell is one of the Valley's in-demand
young actors, and it's easy to see why.

The rest of the cast is
also strong, although not as consistently so. Alex Raines has a funny
scene as Tommy, high on speed and dancing in his chair at a job
interview, but it's a little cartoonish, a mismatch in tone with
Sorrell's all too believable portrayal. Those pesky Scottish brogues
aren't always spot-on, either.

But it's easy to overlook minor imperfections in such a strong interpretation of a play this engrossing and harrowing.

Just be warned: Casual violence, endless heroin injections and one very
unsexy nude scene aren't the only reasons this play is hard to watch.
There's also the matter of a toilet filled with very convincing brown
goop. Best to come with an empty stomach.

Reach the reporter at kerry.lengel@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-4896.