Edinburgh Fringe 2009
A new play from Horzon Arts, not for the easily offended, explores Heroine in a unique way in the lives of three people, sharing a flat with each other and a lady in white…Shocking and pitch-perfect new production.
Twenty-four hours after seeing this show I am still affected by it. I was still crying ten minutes after it ended. Shaking a bit too. But this isn’t why "Heroin(e) for Breakfast gets the star rating it does. FringeReview doesn’t base its reviews on personal reactions. We attempt to assess the work based on the quality of the piece we are watching as theatre.
And this is quality theatre of the highest order. Horizon Arts claim they are creating theatre for the new generation. Well, three people certainly the far side of fifty pootled out within the first half an hour, but the rest stayed to witness one of the strongest pieces of new theatre I have seen for the last five years, despite it being a show not for the faint-hearted nor easily offended. "The zeitgeist is knackered." Britain is in need in of a huge dose of euphoria and three characters, who share a flat are the microcosm in which sick Britain is played out to near perfection in a play that skillfully lowers the fourth wall at will, and expertly takes us on an emotional journey into the depths of human despair out of which one can only climb with the aid of the white, pure white pleasure of a shot in the arm.
Craig McArdle plays the self-alienated, self-empowered hero/villian as he shares a flat with two women. This is the generation where "jizz" is the new booze. Kirsty Green and Kate Daley are Chloe and Edie, playthings for Tommy, and with a history between them that is revealed as the story unfolds. And there’s a clear narrative here, more so than in previous Horizon productions which have tended more towards collage-writing. The story grips, it builds, and it is still punctured humorously by Tommy directly addressing the audience, berating us and celebrating himself and his approach to living and his own love affair with the white stuff.
The play opens shockingly, and I won’t tell you why or how. We’re in the world of sex as casual as a cuppa, and is Tommy a villain because he takes pleasure without care for others, or is he a hero for being bold enough to reach for a personal euphoria that the nation as a whole has lost, in the physicality of sex, and the high of the hard substance, portrayed as a woman in white, played with chilling charisma by Hayley Shillito, played physically, played vocally, played musically, played excellently.
In classic Brechtian style, both Tommy and "Heroine" step out from the scene, stepping easily through the fourth wall and addressing the audience suddenly.
Heroine is a heroine in white, imagined by Tommy, embodied as a temptress, powerful, a chameleon who plays hurt when ignored, and ultimately the bringer of death. This heroine is always in control and ultimately takes final and tragic charge, played out at the end with heartbreaking, music-assisted, studied physicality by this hugely talented cast. Heroine, as imagined by Tommy doesn’t complain – she leaves that to others; Heroine flatters and entices; Heroine is the new revolution, Heroine is the "real one who doesn’t give a single, solitary f**k". Heroine is the means of bringing us all together, the unifying force; Heroine is "pure, white and natural as God intended".
This is uncomfortable theatre but never gratuitous. Horizon, and this impressive cast – all four of them – bring physicality and 100% commitment of emotion to a script which is an attempt to portray difficult observation of the what and why of this hard drug which Tommy "loves" and welcomes into his home for breakfast. The attempt succeeds. The writing is brimming with wit, pacey humour, and also strong drama and interplay between the characters.
We see the consequences of "Grade A" Euphoria in the lives of the three, as we’re taken theatrically to the boundaries of being alive, sometimes called "The Perimeter Walk." Yet this is also a play about the "problem with England" and the writer attempts to weave an examination of the sickness at the heart of British culture into the story of this trio seeking their own highs in a life of disappointment and un-realisation. As a piece of writing, this mostly succeeds, certainly enough to allow this production to pack a strong emotional punch. Sometimes the attempt to link the identity of the nation with the story presented is a little tenuous.
Yet overall, this is a performance that goes without a hint of fear into dark and difficult territory, without moralising, seeking truth and finding much, in one of the finest pieces at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.