The Political History of Smack and Crack by Ed Edwards – Summerhall, Edinburgh
Ed Edwards’ new play takes the hopeless territory of addiction, a never-ending round of petty crime, near death, recovery and decline, and places it a remarkable geo-political context. The Political History of Smack and Crack is a two-hander that cleverly combines an alarming conspiracy theory with a study of the impact of addiction on individuals. Edwards’ follows Neil and Mandy, friends, sometime lovers and smack addicts whose lives in Manchester are on a route to catastrophe that lasts 35 years. The pair reconstruct scenes from their lives together from drug-fuelled capers to the height of the 1981 Moss Side riots. Both characters witnessed the chaos on the streets, but also the organised resistance to the police that followed.
Edwards’ bombshell claim is that the disorder seen in every major British city during the summer of 1981 prompted the Conservative government to turn a blind eye to the mass sale of heroin, which was funding the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, on inner city streets. Before July 1981, smack was available only to the few; afterwards, it was for sale on street corners across Britain, and the modern epidemic of dealing, crime and addiction began. Was the government complicit in unleashing mass destruction to head off a working class revolt?
The theory is disturbing and little-known, albeit supported by only circumstantial evidence. However, it is expertly woven into a story of the destruction wrought on ordinary lives. The two performers are excellent. Eve Steel, as Mandy, is brittle and fierce, and Neil Bell is a shambling, street-addled Shaun Ryder. In the round at Summerhall, with no decor and only for a crutch as a prop, they jump eras, conjuring up the streets of Manchester and the full sweep of social decline with energy and commitment. Remarkably enough, it is also a play about hope. Edwards, a former addict himself, knows that there is a way out, but it is only for the lucky few.