Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Partly using his own experiences with drugs in the early 1990s, playwright Ed Edwards has crafted a warm two-hander that’s thoroughly rooted in place and time: Manchester in the 1980s, with Thatcher in power and the number of working-class junkies rapidly rising as a result of her government’s policy.
Neil and Mandy are mates, occasional lovers, Manchester born and bred, bonded by adventures they had as teenage tearaways. They are street wise survivors, financing their precarious lifestyles by enterprising shop lifting, petty criminality and whatever they can sell. They drift in an out of each other’s lives, taking turns to prop each other up, sometimes loyal, mostly looking out for themselves. They like a laugh; they like smack even more.
This is their story from childhood into adulthood although they seem surprised as us that they have made it so far, not taken out by a drug deal gone wrong or a some dodgy gear. Set during Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s three term administration in the 1980s it is also the story of how cocaine and heroin became the drug of choice of the masses rather than the elite few. Alongside deregulation, privatisation, rising house prices and celebration of individual enterprise drugs become big business.
Eve Steele and Nick Bell are both lively and high octane narrators and play various characters in Ed Harris tale of how the Manchester drug scene destroyed (destroys) so many lives during that decade and beyond. The venue is laid out so the audience surround the performers and both make full use of this so that we are drawn right into the tale. The fast pace set by Director Cressida Brown is effective at keeping us fully engaged and we barely get to draw breath before our loveable heroes have us wheeling off in a new direction.
The acting is superb, supported by a text which has a fully developed roster of characters all portrayed by Steele and Bell. The play has another season booked beyond the Fringe and perhaps in further development more of the political context will get woven in. Alongside the likeable Manchester cohort of ex and recovering addicts it would be great to see the government of the day in action too. The politics are fascinating and important and hearing about them third hand means those sections of the play are more like a lecture than a piece of theatre.
The company are working with Synergy Theatre Project which works towards rehabilitation with offenders and ex-offenders to bring performances to prisons in Manchester and London, and in November 2018 there will be a run of the show at The Mustard Tree refuge in Manchester, taking it to audiences for whom the topic is particularly pertinent.