An eight-minute walk from Oval Tube station lies the Golden Goose pub and theatre. The venue offers a great open space that feels both intimate and spacious. On entering, the show creates a sense of nostalgia as a familiar tune from Mamma Mia plays. Two young girls, Elena (Holly Higbee) and Dani (Madelynn King), prance onto the stage, bickering and singing along. It immediately puts a smile on one’s face, setting the scene to be a lighthearted moment between two girls on the brink of womanhood.
However, the play’s title, Heroin is Not the New Chic, implies a quick downward spiral into a darker theme, and this is delivered to a certain extent, but not as expected. ‘Heroin Chic’ was a style that was popular in the early 90’s and coined after the death of a prominent fashion photographer. Pale skin, dark circles under the eyes, and waif-like emaciated figures were on trend. It reflected and glorified the abuse of heroin and other drugs that was popular among the middle class and the wealthy.
Circling back to the play, the focus here is not on drug abuse, but on self-image.
Dani, a plus-sized girl, is a fashion designer. Her best friend El, a petite model, has pitched in to model for her show. Though on opposite ends of the body spectrum, the two best friends battle the same demons and fall out over the same difference. Women have always had a love-hate relationship with their bodies, so this topic will resonate with many women, exacerbated by marketing and societal expectations; perhaps more so with the younger generation who are coming to terms with their own self-image up against the pressures from social media.
We see Elena shiver and faint, her loss of appetite a symptom of a deeper underlying trauma. But then at the climax of the second scene of modern dance we hear the words ‘Women’s bodies are not a trend’ being chanted. The play’s title now makes more sense, using these familiar words which became a campaign slogan to eradicate heroin use in the industry.
The acting here is faultless, and both women are so immersed in their characters it is a pleasure to watch and follow their journey. But the script misses an opportunity to delve deeper into discussions of self-image and stereotyping. El’s brother Ethan (Thomas Brooks) offers some much-needed light relief with his goofy but shy character. Brooks interjects his presence at the right moments and breaks up the tension that threatens to overwhelm the audience. An unintentional star of the show, he teases the most reactions from the audience. The cast work the stage and audience well, considering the U-shaped seating arrangement. The director has seemingly tried to work out how each audience section would best enjoy at least one scene head-on, which is not an easy feat, but also meant we missed many great facial expressions.
This is an enjoyable production, with a memorable cast and themes that resonate. Being a big girl myself, I’ve had similar experiences with skinnier friends. People come in all shapes and sizes, and like the ‘Odd Box’ where the discarded ‘imperfect’ fruit and vegetables are sold, they are still good and worthwhile. Who decides these imperfections? There is an important message at the heart of this play, but it needs further thought on the delivery and the title.
Written by: Rae Keefer and Rachel Verhoef
Directed & Produced by: Rae Keefer
Movement Direction by: Alara Koroglu
Light Design by: Ed Frearson
Heroin Is Not The New Chic has completed its current run.