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‘Spot On’ — ‘Trainspotting’ gets a make-over as it crosses The Pond

Irvine Welsh (L) Tom Mullen (R) discuss Trainspotting USA Theatre Wit.| Phoby CamerJohnson.

Irvine Welsh (L) and Tom Mullen (R) discuss Trainspotting USA at Theatre Wit.| Photo by Cameron Johnson.

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When: Through Dec. 2

Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont

Tickets: $32.50

Info: (773) 975-8150;

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Updated: November 14, 2012 6:04AM

The 1996 cult novel “Trainspotting” was Scottish author Irvine Welsh’s debut. But despite being busy with a million other projects, he just can’t seem to leave that early creation behind. He wrote a sequel, “Porno,” in 2002, and a just-released prequel, “Skagboys.”

And on top of all that, he’s returned to the original story, helping rewrite scenes and characters for local director Tom Mullen’s staging of “Trainspotting USA” at Theater Wit, which relocates the story of young Scottish heroin addicts from working-class Edinburgh to Kansas City, Mo.

“It’s kind of strange but in a good way,” Welsh says. “I was intrigued with Tom’s idea but also had reservations because it’s set in a certain kind of place, a certain milieu.”

Mullen, a fan of the 1996 movie adaptation as well as Harry Gibson’s 1995 stage version, says he got the idea of reimagining the story after watching a drug intervention reality show about heroin addicts in the Midwest.

“It dawned on me that this landscape was universal,” Mullen recalls. “I wondered if Irvine would let us tear it up and redo it. At the time, I wasn’t even aware he was living in Chicago.”

Welsh’s violence-filled story of drug-addiction is both humorous and tragic and has a devoted following. Danny Boyle’s cult classic film adaptation has a Facebook page with more than 1.4 million followers.

Mullen, whose previous work includes acclaimed productions of “Tomorrow Morning” and “Departure Lounge,” says the USA-centric version is a “re-adaptation” of Gibson’s adaptation. After going through a six-month workshop and adding bits from the film and “Porno,”he says “it has become its own vehicle.”

The transition went smoothly with the characters Renton, Sick Boy and Spud. But Begbie, the violent sociopath who terrorizes, assaults and brutalizes anyone who angers him, had to be changed “quite radically,” says Welsh.

“American violence is very different than Scottish violence,” Welsh explains. “American violence is all about the gun. An American psychopath is cold and remote; a Scottish psychopath is all about doing something physical to somebody. They wrap themselves up in a rage that is more vocal and has an edge.”

Welsh has a novel in the works, as well as a script for a new HBO series and an immersive musical theater piece. He’s also in talks about doing a traditional British pop musical in London. And next summer in Chicago, he hopes to make a “very small indie film” about a siege at a creative writing workshop.

“I’m the sort of person that lives by the saying ‘the devil makes work for idle hands,’ ” Welsh says, with a knowing laugh. “I’d just be sitting in bars if I wasn’t working all the time.

“And as a novelist you spend so much time alone, and I don’t think that’s really good for you either. I have to get out and do things. So when I get excited about something, I just have to go with it.”

Director Tom Mullen and writer Irvine Welsh will take part in a talkback after the Oct. 18 performance.

Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.

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