Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Brutal and honest examination of the damage caused (to themselves and others) and the sometimes daunting challenges faced by alcoholics determined to seek the long road to recovery.
One of the many myths about alcoholics is that they’re grizzled looking old men who stink of urine and sit on street corners asking for loose change so they can get their next fix. Yet a cousin of mine lost not one but two husbands to premature, alcohol driven deaths – one was a company executive, the other a teacher. And a friend of mine was knocked off his bike in the centre of Edinburgh a few years ago by a woman driving a car that cost the price of a small house. Her two young children were in the back. It was eight o’clock. In the morning. She failed the breath test by some distance. She was a doctor. She didn’t look like an alcoholic.
Mark Jeary’s expertly crafted treatise on a disease that often runs undiagnosed for years is full of similar stories. Stark tales of lives blighted and the untold damage inflected on those around them. And it’s real-life in the raw as the five barefoot actors relate experiences crafted from the testimonies of recovering alcoholics, one of which is Jeary himself whose intimidating physical stage presence belies his apparent mental fragility, perhaps fearful that he might one day suffer what all recovering alcoholics dread – a relapse or relaxation of the discipline required to sustain abstinence.
This rich tapestry unfolds on a bare stage with its uplighting throwing subtle shadows across the five actors, creating a harsh image to go with the harsh tales that they recount. Staccato exchanges between the quintet are skilfully blended with soliloquies delivered in an easy conversational style that draws the audience inexorably into the kernel of the issue under examination.
What the body does to alcohol and what alcohol does to the body is described in graphic detail with the strong language present throughout this hour of powerful yet, at times, poignant piece of theatre adding to its realism. And the occasional shafts of humour are so dark you think they’ve emerged from a black hole in outer space.
But how can you loosen alcohol’s hold? The apparent rapidity with which our quintet hauled themselves off the proverbial slippery slope perhaps skated over some of the challenges inherit in alcoholics recognising that they are the problem, not the drink, but the final message was loud and clear – alcoholics are always in recovery.
Brutal, honest, graphic, expertly scripted and tightly directed, this is a very good show, a compelling piece of storytelling that explodes a number of myths about a disease that continues to kill a significant number of people in the UK each year. Sobering theatre.