The Political History of Smack and Crack (4 stars)

The List / Gareth Vile

Angry yet witty political theatre from Manchester

Covering both the personal and social impact of heroin, Political History is a brash yet thoughtful analysis of how the British state was complicit in the increase of drug use during the 1980s. Following the adventures of a couple who battle with their own addictions, Ed Edward’s script balances informative interludes with darkly witty tales from the drug-use front line.

The core thesis of the production is the shocking idea that, after the riots across the UK in 1981, the Conservative government indirectly allowed the development of an international trade in heroin so that the working class would shift their energy away from protest into gangsterism and addiction. Although the central relationship has moments of comedy, their lives are blighted by drug use, poverty and the threat of death, and the play refuses to condemn their criminality and recognises how social opportunity is denied to the working classes.

The fast pace, the juxtaposition of lectures on political history and episodes from the life of the couple, the urgency of the message and the dark jokes combine to lift Political History from being either misery-porn or polemical complaint: engaged, lively and thoughtful, Edward’s script is given an appropriately sparse and dynamic dramaturgy.

Roundabout @ Summerhall, until 26 Aug (not 14, 21), 5.30pm, £14–£15 (£10–£12).