Review: The Political History of Smack and Crack, Live Theatre

The Political History of Smack and Crack is a fervent exploration of addiction through both a personal and political lens. Ed Edwards’ play is specifically concerned with the history of crack and heroin use in Manchester. This two-hander follows the intersecting lives of Mandy and Neil as they navigate their relationship through periods of drug-use. The play also looks at progression of the heroin epidemic – from its exclusive status and circulation amongst the higher echelons of society to the epidemic on the streets of Manchester in the early 80s.  

There is very little to the set. As soon as Mandy (Eve Steele) and Neil (William Fox) arrive on stage it’s evident we’re in for an hour of intense and confronting theatre without distraction. The ugly intimacies of cyclical addiction and recovery are played out in scenes that don’t shy away from reality. It’s a love story under extreme pressure that encourages the audience to empathise with the characters without romanticising their behaviours. Vulnerability is at the core of it; the further the pair sinks into addiction, the more susceptible to other harmful influences they become. It’s disorientating and chaotic as the narrative jumps between the past and present. In contesting each other’s accounts, there’s a suggestion that Mandy and Neil are unreliable narrators and that retellings we’re witnessing are cloudy versions of the truth. 

Underpinning The Political History of Smack and Crack is Edwards’ argument that after the wake of inner-city uprisings the early 80s, hard drugs were allowed to flood into the cities and the demoralising consequences suited a Thatcherite neoliberal agenda. Sometimes the inclusion of this astute political analysis feels a little forced against the world of the play even if the information is essential to the wider context. It’s also a reminder of the scale of the epidemic; although the play is concerned with two individuals, it points to the fact that their situation is not unique and is reflective of a greater, societal darkness. 

The Political History of Smack and Crack is an energetic hour of theatre that pulls no punches. For anyone unfamiliar with experiences of addiction, it’s an opportunity to gain a better understanding how political decision-making in the pursuit of power can impact the lives of the most vulnerable and powerless members of society.

The Political History of Smack and Crack played the Live Theatre until 12 February. For more information and tickets, visit the Live Theatre website.