Pros: Direction and design add value to a challenging performance played in the round.
Cons: You need to have an understanding of the political landscape of 1980s Britain.
Sharing his personal experience of drug abuse and crime in the 1990s, playwright Ed Edwards wants to offer a candid portrayal of the rehabilitation process and the ‘fucked-up relationships’ he has experienced. More importantly, he wants to highlight how heroin appeared in the UK at a specific moment in time, and for what would appear to be largely political reasons.
Mandy (Eve Steele) and Neil (Neil Bell) are long-time friends, linked by a one-of-a-kind mutual dependency. They’re both heroin users; when that’s not available, they’re happy to take whatever else can make them high. Trying it for the first time almost by chance when it suddenly became popular in the 1980s, they quickly become addicts, going on to face a future of homelessness, petty crime and conviction, before finding the slippery road to recovery.
Set inside the unmistakable Paines Plough’s Roundabout at Summerhall – essentially a gigantic igloo – the performance is played in the round. The jazzy lighting suits the venue, and Cressida Brown’s dynamic direction ensures that no portion of the auditorium feels neglected. Steele and Bell talk to each other, but also towards the audience, keeping them engaged with movement and proximity. Full of humour and painfully truthful details, the play is narrated in the third person, with the characters and the narrators eventually blending together.
As the title promises, the story includes some forthright political implications and explains how the diffusion and consumption of heroin, which was quite low in the 1970s, spiked after the 1981 riots on Moss Side, Manchester. According to Edwards’ interpretation, the mass introduction of relatively affordable hard drugs into the underground British market was a political manoeuvre, intended to create a diversion from the dissatisfaction of the working class. Until then, heroin had been a recreational pleasure only for the intellectuals and the upper class.
As someone who didn’t grow up in the UK, I found the topic compelling, but sometimes challenging to follow. Back home, I felt the need for further readings to have a better understanding of the issue in its full extent. However, this shouldn’t put anyone off from watching an informative and captivating piece of new writing.
Author: Ed Edwards
Director: Cressida Brown
Producers: Most Wanted, Offstage Theatre, Soho Theatre, W14 Productions, Alastair Michael
Box Office: 0131 560 1581
Booking Link: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/political-history-of-smack-and-crack
Booking Until: 26 August 2018