Britain has a troubled relationship with opioids. On the one hand, opioids are one of the most frequently prescribed painkillers on the NHS – whether in the form of a self-administered morphine drip for post-surgical pain; the much-dreaded and much-prescribed Tramadol for chronic or acute pain or diamorphine for cancer patients. Despite what the official literature will tell you, it is a common experience for those with some form of non-specific pain – particularly back pain – to walk in one door of a doctor’s clinic and out the other with a neat prescription for codeine or similar and, at most, one physiotherapy appointment scheduled for several months’ time. The NHS does not have the funding to provide many patients with the types of treatments – osteopathy, acupuncture, deep tissue massage – many people suffering from muscular and skeletal pain find helpful and so unless the patient can themselves afford to pay for additional private treatments, new furniture, swimming memberships etc., the best pain relief many can hope for is to take constipating, itch-inducing pills for an indefinite amount of time.
Yet despite so many people taking different opioids, heroin remains one of the most derided drugs to take for ‘recreational’ purposes. In the hierarchy of which drugs most people would ingest – with alcohol and marijuana being the softest, progressing upwards to cocaine and MDMA – the idea of taking heroin (along with crystal meth and crack cocaine) is for a large percentage of people utterly unfathomable. ‘Junkies’ are often looked down on with hatred, derision, fear and disgust, as though their behaviour was light-years out of line with rest of the population.
In a Telegraph article of 2010, Dr Christopher Jenner, a consultant at Imperial College NHS trust in London, said that patients being prescribed opioids preferred those with ambiguous names such as OxyContin, rather than ‘morphine’ because:
“[With morphine] you open up the Pandora’s box of fear about opioids,” says Dr Jenner. “But even though you say to people that oxycodone is a morphine-like drug, it doesn’t have that social stigma because it doesn’t have that name.”
Essentially Dr Jenner is suggesting that patients are happy to take drugs of a similar nature to heroin and morphine, as long as linguistically the link is removed so that they do not have to associate their behavior with those we think of as being at the bottom of society’s pile.
Perhaps because of the contempt many view heroin users with, it is unusual to see a piece of art that tells their story without sensation, without revulsion and without overt cloying sympathy. Score by Documental – a collective founded by writers Lucy Bell and Cally Hayes – was devised with the help of Bournemouth University’s Social Work Department and the stories of parents successfully helped by family services. It is a fantastic production, in turns both amusing and tear-producing. Like with Homeward Bound, also performed at the Wardrobe Theatre in September 2014, Score has a genuineness to it, there is none of the contrived “I am too used to viewing myself through Instagram” hyper self-awareness too often present in theatre and, umm, real life.
A similar story in the hands of different actors and writers could easily have disintegrated into either being gratuitously tragic or the sort of show referred to as ‘gritty’. I have a problem with the usage of that word as I think it means the sort of thing those in comfortable surroundings sit watching whilst congratulating themselves on choosing to be exposed to the ‘gritty reality’ of other’s shit lives and being mildly titillated by it. It is the sort of word people would choose to describe a documentary on the lives of miners or anything else grey and ‘up North’.
Anyhow, Score probably was ‘gritty’, if you like that word, but since I don’t I will choose ‘beautiful’, ‘funny’ and ‘unaffected’. Lara Simpson and Kathleen Fitzpatrick Milton as Kirsty and Hannah have a highly believable and warm rapport with each other from the opening scene as year 3 angels in Clingfilm wings to young mothers trying to get off drugs and get their children back living with them. What elevates the show still further both as a work of art and within the narrative is Simpson and Fitzpatrick Milton’s singing. Frequent references to the Spice Girls and Alicia Keys situate the story within a particular time period, but also keep the women returning to their school days and their friendship from that time. Both have gorgeous voices, which they need to carry the amount of unaccompanied singing in the short performance.
In the limited space of the Wardrobe Theatre – upstairs of the White Bear pub – the two actresses demonstrate how little technical support is needed to transform a tiny stage into multiple settings and time frames with only the smallest of alterations – one character wearing a jacket or the soundtrack of a train line heard in the background. It shows up how other venues use their extensive space to little effect and reminds the viewer of the very simple power a great storyteller can have.
Score is a wonderful show, one that realistically portrays drug users and ex-offenders as exactly like the rest of us – somewhere between stainless angels and evil, downtrodden monsters. It is a show that is worth going to see, but also one that promises a lot for the future ambitious works of Documental and the programme on at Bristol’s Wardrobe Theatre.