Following sold-out runs at Soho Theatre and Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 (our Edinburgh review can be found here), The Political History of Smack and Crack is about to head out on tour throughout January and February. Before it does though, Eve Steele, reprising her role as Mandy, talks about the show, the 1980 riots and addiction.
How would you describe the show to someone who hasn’t seen it?
The show is a great mix of comedy and grit, both moving and entertaining. It follows two addicts, Mandy (who I play) and Neil, through their lives from their childhood to when they started using drugs and how they are present day, desperately trying to get clean.
Fundamentally, the play is a love story. What makes this one special?
These aren’t the characters we meet in a typical love story, they are really under-represented, and seeing their pain and vulnerability really ups the stakes with what happens to their relationships. When people are this fragile, a broken heart can be fatal.
Can you tell us about your character?
Mandy is warm-hearted, friendly and incredibly self-destructive. I think many addicts are like extreme versions of human beings and Mandy fits this description, her emotions are powerful and overwhelming at times and although she can come across as quite cocky and good fun she has a deep reserve of self-loathing and low self-esteem.
What was it that initially drew you to the role?
This is a character that Ed Edwards and I developed together over a few years. There have been different incarnations of Mandy in works of mine and ours in the past. I used to be a heroin addict myself but thankfully got clean when I was quite young. Mandy is loosely based on an idea of how I might have been if I’d carried on using, mixed in with bits and pieces of people me and Ed have known.
You were brought up in Moss Side. Do you remember anything from the time the play is set?
I was at primary school in 1981 which is when some of the play is set. All I remember when the riots were going was that I wasn’t allowed to play out so it was a bit annoying. They were mysterious, I didn’t understand what riots were. There was a lot of poverty and unemployment at that time, stuff got nicked from the back yard, clothes from the washing line, the house was broken into a lot. I lived in Moss Side again as an adult and by then there was a lot of heroin around. When I was little I remember being really proud when I saw our road mentioned in an article about Moss Side in the Manchester Evening News. I asked my mum if I could take it into school the next day to show everyone and was really grumpy when she wouldn’t let me. The article said: ‘The girls in high heels and tight jeans on Broadfield Road aren’t waiting for a bus.’
In what ways, if any, does your past relationship with addiction affect how you respond to the play?
I think it makes it a quick journey for me to step into the mind of the character. I have many of my own experiences to draw on and sometimes it feels like I am just accessing an existing part of me. It is quite a moving experience and makes me really grateful to have managed to get clean.
Do you think the support offered to drug users has changed or improved since the 80s?
I’m not sure what was available in the 80s but there’s a lot more awareness now. I think it’s harder to get a place in a detox than it was when I got clean in one over 20 years ago, and that’s really bad news as getting clean on your own is really tough. However there’s a lot more recovering addicts working in drugs services now (people who are clean but used to have a drug problem) and they have a lot of really useful experience. So this kind of lived experience combined with peer mentoring and a lot more 12 step meetings is a really good resource. This is really fortunate as there is definitely not enough money available to tackle addiction, as with most mental health issues, so we just have to hope that the generosity and goodwill of those who have struggled with addiction themselves and come through it can help as many people as possible.
How do you think we can best support those struggling with addiction?
I think if it’s a friend, partner or family member then it is really hard as addiction has a huge impact on people close to the addict, and those people need to find ways to look after themselves and be as non-judgemental and accepting of the addict as possible, whilst protecting themselves and not enabling the addiction (by constantly lending money or trying to ‘fix’ things). I would say making addicts aware of their options whenever possible is important, but the thing which is most lacking is safe housing and opportunities to detox in a supported and structured environment.
What do you want audiences to take away from the production?
For people who’ve experienced addiction I hope they will feel some identification and will enjoy seeing a life they can relate to being portrayed on stage. For those who don’t know about addiction I hope they will gain a better understanding and more empathy. And for all audiences I hope it will be possible to see how the wider political and social context affects the lives and options of individual human beings.
What are you most looking forward to while on tour?
Getting to know different cities and theatres, hopefully chatting to a variety of audience members after the show, and really I’m just so grateful to be paid for doing something like this! The other company members are great people, we’re telling a story I feel really deserves to be told and is brilliantly written, and I feel very lucky to be part of it.
22nd – 25th January 2020 Bristol Old Vic
27th – 28th January 2020 HOME, Manchester
29th January – 1 February 2020 Birmingham Repertory Theatre
5th February 2020 Sheffield Studio Theatre
6th – 8th February 2020 The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
11th – 12th February 2020 Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne
13th February 2020 Cast Waterdale, Doncaster
20th – 22nd February 2020 Tron Thetare, Glasgow
Please contact individual theatres for ticket information.