London Student’s Anthony Walker-Cook exchanged questions with Ed Edwards, writer of The Political History of Smack and Crack, which is transferring to the Soho Theatre after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe.
This play is based you own experiences with rehab, jail and drug dependency – why have you decided to dramatize such a personal part of your life?
A writer has to write what they know, unfortunately this is what I know! Plus it’s not all about me, it’s also a big mix of other people’s stories mixed in with my own. If you write what you know and put lots of yourself into your writing it always feels more authentic and strangely the more specific you are to yourself and what you know the more universal the appeal seems to be. Funny that! But true.
How do you write scenes that are inflected by your own experiences but include other characters? Was it difficult emotionally to write of the effects of drug dependency on loved ones?
I think it’s a case of putting yourself in your character’s shoes. But once a character is there you can’t really argue with them, you can put them into situations, but you can’t force them to react in a certain way. They do become bigger than the sum of their parts, kind of like your own kids! If I try to force characters people always give you feedback saying things like, “This doesn’t work” etc. Annoying but they’re usually right.
Could you talk a little about the play’s setting in Manchester and how a generation was lost to the heroin epidemic?
Yeah back in the 80s there was a time – and admittedly I was on the drug scene so I’d have noticed it more – but it felt like you were surrounded by danger. That danger was heroin. And then crack came along and people were dropping like flies. People you’d been raving with etc., were suddenly fucked on either or both. Then there was nothing you could do. Then you’d find yourself smoking crack and thinking, “This is nice. Uh-oh, this is VERY nice.” It was fucking everywhere. I did three and a half years in jail and in there were kids coming in who’d never tired it and starting off on it. conversely there were guys who’d come in cracked and smacked to the holt, get clean, get down the gym, bulk up and you’d see them a couple of years later on the out and they’d be fucked again.
When writing such difficult material, do you find the opportunity for comedy welcoming or difficult?
Completely natural. I’ve sat in twelve step meetings for recovering addicts and everyone is pissing themselves laughing at someone saying they’ve died three times. Or a teacher that was about to drive into the school gates in the morning when their crack dealer answered their phone and they swerved away right in front of the headmaster to go and score and come back in later wired to fuck ready to teach a bunch of school kids. Which is pretty funny when you think about it. Not the dying. But still we laugh. No no, it’s pretty easy to be funny with sorties like that swimming around. The comedy and tragedy are never far apart in that world.
The show has had successful and award-winning runs at the Edinburgh Fringe, but do you conceive of any challenges in bringing it to the Soho Theatre?
I always fret that it will be received differently – the practical sweats I leave to the director. I wanted to put more back in because it was reduced to an hour in Edinburgh from about an hour and ten, but there wasn’t time and it went well up there so it wasn’t really worth messing with the actor’s heads. But will the London audience respond so well? Early signs are that they will: last night was the preview and apparently it went well. My partner is in the show so I’m child rearing till Thursday when it’s press night and the grandparents step in to release me from drudgery!
If you had to describe the tone of The Political History of Smack and Crack in one word what would it be?
The guys at Paine’s Plough described it as “Angry but charming” so I’ll take that. I like to think it’s funny and moving too!
If The Political History of Smack and Crack is trying to pose one question to the audience, what is it? And what is the answer?
Who is the real enemy? And if they’ll do that, what lengths do we have to go to to defeat them? (is that two?)
What was the best thing you saw in the past year on the stage?
Most enjoyable: The ballad of the narcissistic mother and her apathetic son. There were a lot of good shows in Edinburgh. Mark Thomas’s new NHS show is beautiful. Trojan horse was great. But I have to mention Life By The Throat written and performed by Eve Steele, my partner, which is phenomenal and will come again. Look out for it, it will blow your socks off. But bring a hanky.
Is there anything you wish you had seen ever? (The ‘who would you invite from history to a dinner party’ version for theatre).
Yes, that famous production of Midsummer Night’s Dream by Peter Brook. The original production of Mystery Bouffe at the Theatre in Moscow when Meyerhold was suddenly in charge of the revolutionary theatre during the heroic years of the Russian Revolution. And I’d have loved to have seen Dario Fo and Franka Rame in the flesh.
What do you consider as the main imperative of friends/loved ones dealing with health issues related to drug consumption and what more needs to be done socially to help them within British society?
Get to an NA meeting and keep going back till you hear what you need to hear.
Get more 12 step residential rehabs for free, not just the private ones for rich addicts.
Our thanks to Ed for taking the time to answer London Student’s questions, and to Chloe Nelkin of Chloé Nelkin PR for organising. The Political History of Smack and Crack will be at the Soho Theatre until the 22nd September, 2018.
Feature photograph: The Other Richard