The Political History of Smack and Crack, Bristol Old Vic Weston Studio

WRITER Ed Edwards’ views on why the social groupings becoming addicted to hard drugs has changed from a handful of well-heeled upper-class people.

Go back before the swinging sixties and the figure for the number of addicts in this country was officially under 5,000, nearly all from that higher social and income bracket. With the introduction of comparatively cheap hard drugs over the next three decades, that figure quickly ballooned into a six figure number, largely to be found amongst lower income groups.

Mr Edwards points the figure firmly in the direction of state agencies in this country, the USA, and other prosperous nations, agencies he believes fostered rather than discouraged international drug trade. The heroin explosion of the early 1980s came, he says, as a result of fall-out from communities crushed by Thatcherism, starting when she came to power in 1979.

All a bit too simplistic? Well you can argue which ever way you like, but at least in Mr Edwards we have a writer who has lived through the events he depicts. He was twelve when the Moss Side riots took place in Man­chester in 1981, and spent time in prison as a result of drug addiction. He knows what it is like to explore the heights of drug induced ecstasy, endure  rehab, the downs of trying to give up this mind blowing addiction, and the effect that such a life has on personal relationships.

In tandem with director Cressida Brown, Ed Edwards has devised a two hander show where the audience follows the friendship of Neil and Mandy, both from underprivileged backgrounds, from their first meeting in 1981 when he was 12 and she six, through to the present day. We see their first flight into the surreal world of hard drugs, their individual fights against addiction, with each in turn winning, or descending the depths of despair.

William Fox and Eve Steele placed on a bare stage with no props, save for one elbow crutch or clothing changes take Neil and Mandy through from childhood into the onset of middle age, sometimes sliping back and forth in time, with deceptive ease. When Mandy had her first flight into the unknown on hard drugs it was reminiscent of, and almost as funny as, Meg Ryan’s orgasm in the restaurant in When Harry Meets Sally.

For all the serious political content and personal conflict, William and Eve did find quite a few places to relieve the tension with humour.

The play is very judgemental of politicians the establishment, whom the director and author believe have not given the two characters on stage, or the others who emerge in their narrative, a real chance in life. It never seeks to lay the blame at the door of Neil and Mandy, preferring to leave the audience with the problem of passing judgement on the people caught up in problems of life caused they believe by the powers that be.

Whatever conclusion you come to, you will leave the theatre knowing that you have spent the last hour watching a company who have very definite views on what happened  39 years ago in Manchester, who was to blame for it and the legacy it has left behind.


Posted in Reviews on .