Soho Theatre, London – until 22 September 2018
It’s Manchester in the 1980s. Neil (Neil Bell) and Mandy (Eve Steele) are kids, too young to be out at night when they get caught up in the Moss Side riots that were to change the landscape and their futures. We learn all this later on as the narrative flits back and forth revisiting pivotal moments in their relationship.
Writer Ed Edwards, who has based The Political History of Smack and Crack on his own experiences with narcotics dependency, has his protagonists speak in the third person, telling their own story as if observers. First and foremost it is a love story, two friends in love with drugs and getting a rise from shoplifting and thieving, but also in love with each other in their own way.
A life of drugs and crime don’t make for a healthy relationship, creating a toxic cocktail of blind camaraderie, encouragement and destruction. With their cycle of recovery and relapse coming to a head, we travel back to that Moss Side-night where Edwards theorises on the origins of the heroin epidemic in Manchester and the UK.
He draws connections between the localised impact of poverty, the wider social and international policies of Margaret Thatcher’s government and the rise of the drug use among the poor. In Strangeways prison, we are told, the slang for heroin was ‘Thatcher’s Brown’.
Edwards’ writing has the wit and bluntness of the Manchester vernacular but is inflected with a sugar-free poetry. You have to wait for the history and politics of the title to kick into the love story but it adds a grubbier, sharper edge to what is an already an unashamed exposé of the realities of drug addiction and recovery.
It’s 60 minutes long without an interval and I’m giving it four stars.
The Political History of Smack and Crack is at the Soho Theatre until 22 September, from 1-17 November it will be at Mustard Tree in Manchester, a local refuge providing care for people trapped by homelessness, dependency and poverty, as part of The International Arts and Homelessness Summit and Festival.