Heroin(e) for Breakfast

Pillowtalk Theatre Company presents 'Heroin(e) for Breakfast' by Philip Stokes.

Pillowtalk Theatre Company presents 'Heroin(e) for Breakfast' by Philip Stokes.

One was thrown for a loop upon entering the Smock Alley Studio, where Pillowtalk Theatre Company recently mounted their version of Philip Stokes’ Heroin(e) for Breakfast as part of the '10 Days in Dublin' festival. With a radio recording of the Queen's English protruding from the pounding score like a knackered shin bone, the sense of unease was compounded by a confusing seating layout and house lights which were turned down low. As a swing standard about not letting life get you down ('That’s Life') kicked in, a couple burst onto the stage commencing a vigorous bout of copulation that has nothing to do with love. As they stripped, flipped and grinded against one another, beneath a Union Jack, the implication was clear. This is life in modern day Britain: ugly, unabashed and unfeeling.

Heroin(e) for BreakfastAs wanton sex and seemingly casual, soon to be noxious drug use abounds you would be forgiven for thinking we were all aboard the ‘in-yer- face’ express, where characters trade in lurid language to challenge our sense of moral decency. And you’d be right. Stokes plays with convention through Tommy (Manus Halligan), his fourth wall breaking lothario, and Clare O'Malley’s Heroin(e), the physical embodiment of the titular drug, who struts out of Tommy’s drug-addled mind to push her wares on the other characters – and possibly the audience as well. Stokes fills his characters' mouths with amusingly acrid dialogue, as Tommy, his ex Chloe (Rachel Gleeson) and his schoolgirl sex pet Edie (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman) trade barbs on the death of romance, of freedom of choice, and being pulled off by pensioners. But the conceit can’t help nodding off before curtain down, leaving us on the receiving end of another ‘drugs is for mugs’ rant.

The “Winston Churchill of smackheads”, Tommy doesn’t fight them on the beaches, the landing grounds, the fields or the streets, rather acts like a living-room revolutionary fighting convention, highlighting hypocrisy and outlawing mediocrity as he shoots up and sounds off about his “alternative way of living”. It’s not a rethread of the themes explored in Trainspotting, Christiane F or Candy, however, as Tommy suddenly turns on the audience, slamming our middle-class pretensions and the theatrical conventions Stokes’ uses to exploit the plight of the strung out, even threatening to have us arrested for breaking the fourth wall, as his Jimmy Porteresque angry young man is turned into a Tynan-like critic of form.

Heroin(e) for BreakfastThey say the devil takes on pleasing shapes and those shapes are thrown by O'Malley’s Heroin(e), a Marilyn Monroe aping temptress, whose glamour and appeal decreases for every moment she spends on stage. O’Malley played the coquette as a ball of sunshine and spite, seducing, soothing and sweet-talking before revealing her uglier, manipulative and two-faced form, making her the perfect personification of the thrall of addiction.

Gleeson and Hulme-Beaman draw blood from their dialogue, displaying a natural nastiness that’s admirable in its restraint, trusting in the humour of the words rather than amplifying it in performance, while Halligan does well in portraying his differing relationships with his current and ex girlfriends, and his ultimate mistress, Heroin. But his performance lacks the memory of charm that the other characters claim was once there, nor does he present enough of a threat to really shake the audience when he speaks to them. And his tendency to envelop words in a speedy, mumbled Manchunian accent meant that focusing on what he was saying grew increasingly difficult throughout the production.

McKenna directs with verve, taking care to ensure that what her characters are saying is paid as much attention as the aesthetic itself, and ensuring that the sting from every one-liner hits its mark. However, errors in blocking meant that anything that happened on the ground downstage was blocked from view of those in the back row. (It must be noted that there were no previews to sort this problem out.)

The relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom has been increasingly in the public eye of late what with the bailout, the jubilee, the Olympics and the Queen’s recent visit. The Union Jack and pro-Empire rhetoric can still ruffle the feathers of an Irish audience. McKenna shows courage in not blunting these edges, in trusting that we can see beyond the play's location and the weight of history, and see that what the writer has to say about addiction relates to us all. It’s just a pity that come Act Two, nothing can really be done to save the piece from becoming as judgmental and didactic as the world Tommy rallies against, using safe targets and sad stories to draw the same old conclusions.

Caomhan Keane writes about theatre for the Sunday Independent and is the Senior Theatre Writer at entertainment.ie

  • Review
  • Theatre

Heroin(e) for Breakfast by Philip Stokes

5 - 12 July, 2012

Produced by Pillowtalk Theatre Company
In Smock Alley Studio

Directed by Rosemary McKenna

Set Design: Ferdia Cahill

Lighting Design: Marc Atkinson

Costume: Emma Gleeson

With: Rachel Gleeson, Clare O'Malley, Manus Halligan, Genevieve Hulme-Beaman

Presented as part of the 2012 10 Days in Dublin festival.