By D. A. Blackburn
This season has seen some tremendous strides by Who Wants Cake? Theatre. Productions like “Love and Human Remains” and “Killer Joe” have shown audiences that they’re every bit as capable of tackling dark, gritty plays as they are with the lighter fare that’s become their signature.
With their newest late night endeavor, Harry Gibson’s stage adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s breakout novel – and cult sensation – “Trainspotting,” the gang at WWC? pushes the envelope of innovation a touch further. The result is a very mixed bag, theatrically speaking.
Welsh’s edgy novel, which also spawned the 1996 movie, is a darkly funny and strikingly candid look at heroin addiction, AIDS and misspent youth in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s a tough read to stomach, made tougher by the heavy brogue that is Welsh’s voice as a writer. But the reward for those who undertake it – or the movie, for that matter – is one of the most gripping tales of drug subculture to come out of the 1990s.
Gibson’s stage adaptation is much the same, but trimmed extensively – so much so that it lacks several major elements of the story. It does, however, remain a potent statement. And the thick Scottish dialect and heavy subject matter pose significant challenges on the stage.
With these unique challenges in mind, it should be said that WWC? has struggled a bit. They have done many things right – very right – but they have also taken a number of missteps that are equally tough to swallow.
In the “right” column, they can check off all the technical aspects of the show. They’ve reconfigured the space in a horseshoe, bringing the action squarely into the audience – a first for the company. They’ve also created an exceptional soundscape (by Joe Plambeck) and the best lighting plot in recent memory at The Ringwald.
Casting, however, straddles the line between the “right” and “wrong” columns.
Matthew Turner Shelton is superb as Mark Renton, exercising a terrific understanding of the tough dialogue, and cutting an excellent dramatic presence. Melissa Beckwith, as Alison, also makes an exceptional showing in one of the play’s toughest roles. For fans of “Trainspotting,” these two performances are worth the price of admission.
Elsewhere in the cast the dialect and accent work proves too tough to be delivered consistently and credibly. That said, Steve West and Sean McGettigan do leave a good impression.
The biggest flaw with “Trainspotting,” though, falls squarely on WWC? Theatre. On the periphery of the intense, dramatic movement of the work, they’ve injected an unhealthy dose of camp – in the form of gender-bent roles and off-tone costuming. The juxtaposition of this camp against the weightier scenes is a shock to the system like heroin withdrawal. And in the end, it makes this production an ambitious, but flawed effort.
Who Wants Cake Theatre at The Ringwald Theatre, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday through June 20, plus 8 p.m. June 15 & 22. $10. 248-545-5545. http://www.whowantscaketheatre.com.