Theatre review: Heroin(e) for breakfast

HEROIN(E) FOR BREAKFAST

UNDERBELLY (VENUE 61)

FOR AT least the first few minutes of this show by the Horizon Arts company, you'll probably feel dismissive waves of 'oh no' and 'here we go again' creep down your spine.

Across the dingy sofa of a squalid Manchester flat, a young couple rut with each other in ever more overstated positions. Looking down over the pair is a portrait of a British bulldog on a Union Jack background (which matches the man's boxer shorts), fat spliff and blinging dollar sign crudely drawn on the mutt in pen.

We learn that the fishing-hatted man, Tommy, is a drug addict and bedroom philosopher, a Mancunian junkie analogue of David Thewlis's Johnny in Mike Leigh's Naked, but with more loud-mouthed, foolishly misguided joie de vivre. He lives with Edie, his teenage girlfriend, and Chloe, his long-term partner in junk. So far, so much like a drug-glorifying late-1990s Trainspotting rip-off populated with trendy young self-glorifying smartarses. Stick with it, though. By the end you'll be breathless and numb in the wake of every new and unexpected direction this astonishing production has dragged you in.

Things take a turn for the uncanny when Tommy (a performance which exudes marginally more feyness than menace, courtesy of Craig McArdle) dismantles the fourth wall to ask just what exactly the audience are doing in his flat, and then accelerates into the drug-smogged realms of the unknown with the appearance at the door of the heroin. Or 'the heroin(e)', to be precise; a temptress of iconic proportions, dressed like Marilyn Monroe and quoting Barack Obama, as played by Hayley Shillitoe, a veteran alongside director Philip Stokes of the same company's excellent Elvis Hates Me last year.

From relatively uninspiring beginnings, this play has become something extraordinary by its end. Shillitoe stands out amid a fine cast, which includes Kate Daley and Kirsty Green as Edie and Chloe, respectively, seducing each of her victims into a drug encounter played out to the ironically triumphant strains of Whitney Houston's One Moment in Time.

The piece speaks of national identity, wasted youth, family ties soured beyond salvage and the relentless misery of drug abuse, but it does so in a way that doesn't let go of your attention.

DAVID POLLOCK

Until 30 August. Today 11:40am.