The Political History of Smack and Crack review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘rollickingly entertaining’

The Stage / Fergus Morgan

Yes, yes, yes. The Paines Plough Roundabout’s programme this year is exceptional, but there’s nothing better there – maybe nothing better at the whole festival – than Ed Edwards’ The Political History of Smack and Crack, a riotously entertaining and deeply moving drama-cum-documentary exploring the history of heroin use in Manchester.

Partly using his own experiences with drugs in the early 1990s, Edwards has crafted a two-hander of sensitivity and scope 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.

Two Mancunians – Mandy and Neil – narrate their own intertwining stories of love and addiction on the streets of Manchester, jumping back and forth in time and splicing in lessons about the history of heroin throughout.

It’s stylishly done, burning with a broad, Northern humour and a galvanising anti-Tory bite. It’s energetic, too. Effervescent almost. Think Trainspotting, relocated 200 miles south and injected with a bitter dose of politics.

To cap it all, Cressida Brown’s production has two stonking performances from Neil Bell and Eve Steele. Bell is particularly good, with his Rhys Ifans shambliness and Noel Gallagher whine. Wonderful stuff.