The Political History of Smack and Crack at Soho Theatre
Whether you love, hate or feel indifferent about Margaret Thatcher and her ultra-conservative politics, one thing is certain: the 80s were a time of political upheaval, with many confusing events happening which are still thoroughly misunderstood to this day, and many stories which have been left untold – some of them shockingly brutal.
Ed Edwards’s The Political History of Smack and Crack tells one such tale, and it is a smashing success – even if the harsh truths, moments of unsparing violence and foul language can make it difficult to sit through. Mixing blunt, Northern humour with startling moments of drama, the play creates a tension which leaves the audience on the edge of their seats. But it is entirely worth it. By the end, the spectators are rooting for Mandy (Eve Steele) and Neil (Neil Bell), the working-class protagonists who suffer from long-term heroin addiction.
Based partly on the playwright’s personal experience with drugs in the 1990s, the piece explores Thatcherite Manchester from the perspective of two young and insecure lovers who fall into substance abuse. Always worrying where to get their next fix, they are forced to endure horrifying experiences: criminality, injecting unknown narcotics into their arms, rolling around on the floor in agonising pain. Steele and Bell present the story both in first and third-person, but the transition is always fluent, creating a coherent and compelling narrative which hooks from the start.
The two-hander is kept minimalistic, allowing both actors to showcase their brilliant aptitude. They portray their roles with all the necessary finesse demanded by complex characters whose emotions reach from ecstatic heights to terrifying lows. The subtle and effective music and sound effects by Jon McLeod and the clever use of lighting designed by Richard Williamson add an extra flair to the drama, intoxicating the onlookers throughout the entire runtime.
Unfortunately, the politics appear slightly shoehorned into the script. At several moments during the staging, the actors break the fourth wall and present a brief history lesson with biting anti-Thatcher critique. In a play which lasts merely an hour, this feels too forced – not to mention that the political message of this piece should be obvious enough throughout the otherwise outstanding show.
Despite this one flaw, The Political History of Smack and Crack remains an excellent performance and a dazzling production with astonishing writing and quick-witted humour. Unquestionably a must-see.
Photo: The Other Richard
The Political History of Smack and Crack is at Soho Theatre from 4th September until 22nd September 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The Political History of Smack and Crack here: