Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Can heroin put the Great back in Britain? Three flatmates battle Marilyn Monroe, cultural identity and snowflake mediocrity to save us all! In 2009 Philip Stokes’ award-winning play exploded at the Edinburgh Fringe. Now ten years later, its original creative team reunite to revisit the play in a new production where today its prophecy and warning has become a reality.
An incredibly powerful piece of theatre. First presented at the Fringe in 2009 to rave reviews it appears to have lost none of its pizzazz and hard hitting impact. The writer and cast have done some revising and updating but nothing stands out as anachronistic or awkwardly placed. Ten years ago it was prophecy, now it is reality.
Heroin(e) for Breakfast is set in a flat in Manchester but it could be any faceless urban housing estate – or impoverished rural area for that matter. Wherever it is, it definitely isn’t hip or wealthy or even comfortable.
Tommy (Lee Bainbridge) and his very young girlfriend Edie (Kiera Parker) begin the play falling all over each other, all over the furniture in an apparent and thoroughly overdone orgy of sexual satisfaction, but even then Tommy isn’t looking any too confident about his prowess. This sets the scene for his endless innuendo and suggestions that no one is his equal in the bedroom (sofa/floor) department. Even being challenged by former partner Chloe (Kirsty Anne Green) doesn’t dent his supreme belief in himself as a witty cynical working class philosopher who preaches a ‘great’ Britain based on the immediate physicality and gratification of sex. Plus his heroine, heroin, for breakfast.
Just as we think we’re getting the hang of this – naturalistic drama with overbearing underperforming man who thinks both women in the flat adore him, echoes of Look Back In Anger… Tommy turns to the audience and demands to know what we are doing there. His subsequent comments on his character and the world of the play add not only another layer but serve to create some sympathy for his character, which until then had mostly caused me to squirm.
One of the strongest elements of the play is the embodiment of heroin as a vamped up, Marilyn Monroe like character (Amy-Lewise Spurgeon). Spurgeon presents a statuesque and powerful creature – whatever this character had been representing no one would have been arguing with her. She is by turns seductive, manipulative, needy and threatening until both Edie and Chloe are drawn in.
The scene in which both women fall prey to Heroin and all three join in a wild exuberant unconstrained dance provides just a glimpse into why people might take it, what their world looks like for that brief moment of ecstasy. Knowing all the while that it can’t last, that she is no heroine, just hell and the devil in disguise. Whenever Tommy looks like accepting anything like responsibility for his behaviour she is there, like Wormwood of the Screwtape letters, whispering in his ear that he is right, that he is a hero. And he buys it every time.
The layers of naturalistic, absurdist, meta theatre could jar but the skill of both writer and cast blend them together in a way that creates an extraordinary piece of work.
It was outstanding ten years ago and it’s outstanding now.