Meet the Northern Ireland actor starring in Trainspotting Live

James Boal on joining the cast of the hit adaptation as it returns to Belfast and being permitted to keep his accent by Irvine Welsh himself

After blowing audiences away at the MAC last year, Trainspotting Live is back for another hit in Belfast and this time with one of our own amidst its cast bringing the iconic Irvine Welsh characters into real life – for 75 heart-stopping minutes.

NI-born James Boal, who lives and works in Edinburgh, takes up the role of heroin dealer Mother Superior in the immersive production, which recreates unforgettable scenes immortalised in Danny Boyle's 1996 film, complete with the pounding rave music synonymous with the period.

We caught up with Boal ahead of a five night run at the Waterfront from January 30 - February 3, with performances each night at 7pm and 8.45pm, to see what he's got cooking up for his home crowd.

What was your first experience of Trainspotting? Seeing the film or reading the book?

James Boal: It was actually this stage show. I worked with In Your Face Theatre back in 2014 on a version of Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Innishmore. During that year's Edinburgh Festival both shows ran alongside each other and subsequently I seen it quite a few times that year. Safe to say I was blown away by the experience of it back then.

Has it always been an important work to you in the way that many others recognise it?

I think as a piece of work, it’s a masterpiece in all its forms – the book, the stage and the screen. The content matter is important and still so relevant, the exploration of addiction, it doesn’t glamorise what those experiences would be like or have been like, it’s unembellished and raw. I think the film and the book are timeless, but the stage keeps it present, and keeps that content matter very, uncomfortably close.

Did you see the film sequel last year?

Yes, I thought it was brilliant. Getting to see the continued character journeys. What a challenge to tackle the passing of time, dealing with the relationships the way they were left and the expectation of seeing these iconic characters together again. As well as recreating, or freshly creating on screen the electricity and style of the first all over again. I mean, it was always in safe hands with Danny Boyle, John Hodge and Irvine Welsh, but still no mean feat, especially with something so loved and anticipated.

How would you describe this adaptation? Have you been in the audience for it before?

I’ve seen this production quite a few times as I’m friends with the cast. I’d say each time I’ve seen it it’s been even more vibrant, alive, no-holds-barred, in your face, uncomfortable, dynamic, funny, tragic, stark… and that’s only the first few minutes! My description is over shadowed by Irvine Welsh’s who said this production is 'the best way to experience Trainspotting'.

Trainspotting is almost seen as part of Edinburgh and Scotland's cultural fabric at this stage. Have you felt that in living and working there and has it helped you in preparing for your role? It must have helped with mastering the accent?

Living and working in Edinburgh has helped with the geography of the play and the slang terms in the text, which would have taken a long time to get used to, ken? It’s nice to hear a place name and collectively know where it is, and already have an understanding or experience of the socio-economic, cultural and political circumstances of these places and the atmospheres and relationships to them described in the play.

I will however be keeping my Northern Irish accent, a decision that was given the go ahead by Irvine Welsh. I’m told that when Greg Esplin and Adam Spreadbury-Maher, our directors, put the idea to him he said 'F**king go for it.' So that’s exactly what we’re doing, I do however have a couple of lines in Scottish.  

What have the rehearsals been like? Is it difficult stepping in to what’s been quite a stable cast who have toured all over together?

They’ve been quick! Not difficult at all stepping in, I was friends with them all before I started, they’ve supported my work in the past and I’ve supported theirs, so it’s a great environment. A few of them have done this show roughly 750 times each, and some of them have understudied pretty much every role in the production over the past year, so it’s really supportive being in a room with that much experience of one production.

How does this compare to any other production you’ve ever been involved with?

I’ve never been involved in something with such a big and diverse following, that’s had such an anticipation for its return.  

We saw Trainspotting Live last year in Belfast when it came to the MAC and the actors weren’t afraid to get up close and personal with the audience members as part of the show. Will you be doing the same this time around?

Yes, absolutely!  

Another thing that stood out was how physically demanding the show seemed, with multiple performances per night similar to this tour. Has physical fitness been an important element of preparation?

Yes, especially just after Christmas! Regretting those extra selection boxes and second helpings! Just cleaning up my diet really, and staying as physically active as possible. In that respect I’m lucky I seen the show before and knew what I was getting into. No doubt I’ll have dropped a jean size by August (I hope!).

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When is the last time you performed in Northern Ireland? Will there be any extra nerves with kicking off the tour on home ground?

2013 with Bruiser Theatre Company’s Graduate Academy at the MAC, which was a great experience. I don’t think there’ll be more nerves. I’m looking forward to coming home with a really supportive cast and production team in a show that’s already been received so well there. I remember the cast last year telling me how much they loved the Belfast audiences, so I’m actually excited to experience them myself in this way.

Finally, what would Mother Superior say to anyone considering their first hit of Trainspotting Live?

Do it, you’ll love it, it’s so good you’ll be back for more.  

Tickets for Trainspotting Live can be booked by visiting www.waterfront.co.uk or calling 028 9033 4455. You can also purchase them via the Waterfront box office at the Ulster Hall.