Now in its thirty – first season, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is bigger, bolder, stronger and louder than ever.

This year, over five hundred Australian and international acts will fight long and hard for everyone’s attention. As well as attending traditional stand – up fare, viewers may also consider sampling a play or two. One local team, Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, is featuring Rules For Living, a British – based study, about a dysfunctional middle – class family celebrating Christmas together.

Another option, Trainspotting Live, is an electrifying collaboration between In Your Face Theatre (from Edinburgh) and King’s Head Theatre (based in London). For audiences perhaps looking for something a bit out there and different, this rough and raw production won’t disappoint. A recent Adelaide season drew strong reviews, with the show currently playing Melbourne until April 13, before heading north to Brisbane late next month.

Penned by Irvine Welsh and published in 1993, the controversial piece revolves around a gang of heroin addicts and their hard – partying friends. A massive global hit upon its release, Harry Gibson soon created a stage version, which in turn, inspired the 1996 cult film (and its recent sequel) from director, Danny Boyle.

There is a rising trend of well – known books and films being adapted for the boards. Some of the more successful transfers include Around The World In Eighty Days, Brief Encounter, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Double Indemnity, The Graduate, Matilda, North By Northwest, Picnic At Hanging Rock, and Warhorse. On the West End, a new two – part play, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, is keeping fans and friends of the juggernaut series more than satisfied.

In Trainspotting Live, Gibson gleans the essence of Welsh’s text, stripping it back to one, bare – bones, ninety – minute act. Told at a cracking pace in first and third person narrative, the playwright concentrates on core characters and key episodes from the novel. Much of the original dialogue, written in Scots, Scottish English, or British English, has been kept, adding to the piece’s brute realism. Like William Shakespeare at his most bawdy meeting A Clockwork Orange (by Anthony Burgess), one doesn’t need to have seen the film, read the book, or always understand the urban slang to get the show’s intent.

Led by anti – hero, Mark Renton, this is a tale that is as fascinating as it is repellent.

An unglamorous look at the drug’s cruel and predictable damage on its users, director, Adam Spreadbury Maher, holds little back. In his care, the seven – strong cast give his vision non – stop energy, as well as their total trust. Gavin Ross (Renton), Chris Dennis (Begbie), Greg Esplin (Tommy), Erin Marshall (Alison), Calum Barbour (Mother Superior), Rachael Anderson (Laura), and Michael Lockerbie (Sick Boy), all stand out individually and together as a group. I defy anyone watching not be drawn in and affected by their outstanding work.

Without giving too much away, the creative team presents an interactive experience like no other. Audiences will thrill to the idea of queuing up, as though they are entering an exclusive underground rave. Immersed in total grunge appeal, 45 Downstairs is the perfect venue in this regard.

Once punters are given permission to pass the velvet rope, they will soon understand that the traditional boundaries set between actors and viewers, are quickly dropped. Copious amounts of nudity, course language, as well as simulated sex and violence, make this journey so much more dynamic and close range, than typical theatre in the round.

Like Mockingbird Theatre’s Quills (held at North Melbourne’s Art House Meat Market in 2014), here too, the space is key in establishing much of the necessary atmosphere. Consisting mostly of simple props like a mattress, chairs or a sofa bed, Trainspotting Live’s spare set is supported by Clancy Flynn’s pumping strobe and disco lighting design.

By bringing in more theatre, this year’s festival program is especially exciting in that it is expanding the variety of entertainment choices on offer. Further, including examples like Trainspotting Live, also creates the perfect pathway for people who normally don’t attend traditional plays, and from here, would now consider the medium for future reference.

This is pitch black comedy, rare, dark and uncompromising, at its finest.  Don’t miss it!

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