About halfway through Heroin(e) for Breakfast the anti-hero Tommy announces, “My life is more exciting than yours.” Based on the evidence presented in Pillowtalk’s thrilling new venture, it’s a statement that is hard to argue with. Following the misadventures of three disaffected teenagers who neither belong to, nor believe in, any kind of prevailing social system, Heroin(e) is not for those who like their theatre lukewarm, middle-class and dreadfully polite.
At the centre of the action is Tommy, a self-professed revolutionary, who refuses to settle for an ordinary kind of girl, an ordinary kind of life or an ordinary kind of drug. Think Alex in A Clockwork Orange without the cultural leanings. As dark as he is enticing, Tommy is filled with a sneering sexual confidence that has led him to lure not one, but two, very unlucky ladies into his lifestyle. Edie and Chloe are sadly of the ‘I can change him’ school of thinking and are completely secondary to his first love – heroin. Heroin itself is embodied by a breathless, seductive woman with a nice line in self-aggrandising American slogans. Living in the moment, promising happiness and guaranteeing never to slip into dull, middle-aged spread-this Heroin(e) might just be the best love affair you’ll never have.
If we are all suffering from a distinct sense of disappointment, dying from inanition, are drugs the answer? Can we replace collective ennui with collective euphoria? Tommy seems to think so. Hiding his inherent stupidity behind an articulate, but nonetheless skewed, set of philosophies, Tommy is intent on saving the nation with a needle. His ‘fuck the consequences’ attitude inevitably results in adolescent violence. Pillowtalk’s production of Philip Stokes’s play, which first premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2009, is fresh and daring but never flippant about it’s subject matter. It’s made absolutely clear that if this is freedom, it is the loneliest you will ever find. The cast and director, Rosemary McKenna, spoke to MEG about their upcoming production in Smock Alley as part of 10 Days in Dublin festival.
Manus Halligan who plays Tommy is adamant that Tommy is not the villain of the piece, “Heroin is the villain. Tommy’s repressed, a bit unhappy. I think he’s got to the point where he will believe anything and heroin tells him what he wants to hear. Is he a product of his time? Absolutely. There is a lot of frustration there, hidden behind a very thin veneer of bravado. I guess he’s had few opportunities in life and this search for an alternative way of living, this so-called ‘freedom of choice’ is just another form of escapism.”
Certainly, freedom of choice is one of the main themes of Heroin(e). Edie, Chloe and Tommy are part of the ‘whatever’ generation who have had their future rolled out in front of them, who have fought for nothing and felt nothing. They are inundated with choices, but have little concept of the sacrifices that have been made for them. They say they choose life-but with all the boring bits cut out. It is telling that they spend most of their time sitting in a bare flat staring out blankly into blankness.
If Heroin(e) makes a world that seems small and distant suddenly seem huge and prescient, it also reminds us that world is only a few small steps away. Chloe, as played by Rachel Gleeson, comes from a privileged background, attended college and defies every recognisable addict stereotype. Rachel attributes her character’s addiction not to boredom, but to infatuation “When her and Tommy’s relationship began, it was sweet and exciting and a little bit different. I think she used heroin as a way of reconnecting with him.” Their failure to reconnect could also be blamed on Tommy’s belief that he is some kind of demi-sex god and his decision to move in his combative school-girl girlfriend, Edie (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman). Edie fights, flirts and finally succumbs to Heroin(e) as the trio find themselves coping with a growing sense of unreality and disembodiment. Then there is Heroin(e) herself twirling and pouting, as sexy as Marilyn Monroe and almost twice as fucked-up. The relationship between Tommy and Heroin(e) is like any young love-she has stolen into his system like a, well, narcotic and become his whole life. His actual life has become irrelevant, remote, nothing but background noise. Clare O’Malley has the tricky task of making Heroin(e) both tempting and terrifying, “It’s a challenge really. It a very demanding role and it’s particularly hard towards the end. Things get a lot tougher, a lot darker.”
So what does Heroin(e) for Breakfast promise? Nothing bland, predictable and flat. It promises to provoke, to cause you to question whether it is better to live passionately in heat and noise or to die quietly with cold-blooded complacency. Most of all, it promises the entertainment that always comes with watching people behave very, very badly.
Catch Heroin(e) for Breakfast at Smock Alley from Thursday 05 – 12 July.