SCORCHED EARTH: Industry Feedback

P1180948Here’s some of the great feedback we received from Professors Betsy Thom and Lisa Luger, both professionally involved in researching and advising drug-related training and health policy, who were kind enough to attend our playwrighting workshop and share their wealth of knowledge on the subject, and then our work-in-progress performances at the Soho and Southwark. They played a key role in developing our work, and we are hugely grateful for their generous advice and support! Dr. Lisa Luger: Director of LLC Consultancy CIC, a social enterprise dedicated to workforce development within the health and social care sector. The aim is to train and enable staff working with people with drug and alcohol problems. Prior to that she was Principal Lecturer and Programme Leader Substance Use and Misuse Studies at the University of West London for 12 years, carrying out research and educational work in the area of addiction. “What parts of the work in progress performance did you like and why? I liked the idea of using Heinrich Dreser to tell the story and lead through the play, moving between different times and places. This gives the audience guidance and the necessary background information in a quick moving play. Each of the scenes was very impressive in telling a particular story. You quickly were drawn into the story. The characters were very well portrayed and problematic heroin use was personified. For example, the scene between mother and daughter almost tears your heart out.   What parts do you feel could be improved? I found the first scene difficult to get in, but in hindsight, it fits very well. Otherwise I have no suggestions for individual scenes. However, although I have not seen the whole play, it would be great if the play could include a bit more about the drug trade today, about Afghanistan, about the different levels of drug dealing, i.e. the big drug dealer bosses vs. small scale dealer, the mostly female mules bringing in the drugs, but most of them getting caught. Some may think the play dwells on the negative impact of drugs. Therefore it may be good also to bring in the positive effects of heroin, why people are using it in the first place, i.e. getting high, having a good time, but also use as medicine and to be able forget your sorrow for a while. What did you think about the length of the scenes shown? The length of scenes were good. The character of Heinrich Dreser stands out, of course, as leading figure. What happens to him? Will his own fate be shown. What happens to his addiction? Apart from the first scene, where I had difficulties getting into the story, all other story lines are clear. Where I felt there were gaps I assume they will be filled in with further scenes which we have not seen. Do you think the play contributed to your understanding of the history and effects of heroin? Although, I think I have already a good understanding of the history and effects of heroin, I found the play fascinating and when leaving the theatre I felt that I have learnt something new, for example about the history of heroin, but also about the lives of people with heroin, how they try to get on with their lives, their ups and downs, their struggle and set backs… I feel the play takes the mystic and somewhat alien horror of heroin away and makes it real and personal. I would like to see more of it and can’t wait seeing the whole performance. Well done to the writer, the director and the actors. I was very impressed.P1200641Professor Betsy ThomProfessor of Health Policy, Head Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Middlesex University; field work in Pakistan, Malaysia and Europe; author of ‘Dealing with Drink’; co-editor of ‘Two Worlds of Drug Consumption in Late Modern SocietiesThank you from all of the Middlesex group for the play. Everyone was very complimentary. I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought the production, music, acting and writing were a credit to everyone. It will be really interesting to see how it develops from here and I hope to have the opportunity to attend another performance further down the line. Within the general framework of saying that this is excellent work, I have made some comments – not in the format you asked for but covering all the points. Dreser: Use of this character to tell the story and link scenes was excellent. The character was strong and convincing. Could he be developed even more to clarify the historical shifts? (Once or twice I thought that someone unfamiliar with any of the history might have been a bit lost at the start of scenes). Opening scene: This successfully brings in a range of characters. When watching it I began to feel it was a bit long drawn out but as most of the characters were developed further later on, so I am now not sure. Mother and daughter: This was a very good way of conveying some of the human elements and it comes across very convincingly. It accurately reflects the kinds of stories women users tell once they are in treatment. I don’t think this needs any changes. NA Group: I particularly like the way Mike questions this approach. I realise that it is not possible to show everything in a short play but there are other approaches (e.g.substitution treatment) and NA is often rejected because seen as ‘religious’ – so Mike is important. General street drug scenes and how the various characters evolve: Overall this is well done. It certainly portrays the ‘alternative’ sub-cultural world which forms around substance use and how that world develops its own structures and moralities (classic skid row studies highlight similarities). I think someone in the audience said that it showed how they looked out for each other and that that was a nice feature. While I agree with that comment, many drug dependent people point out that drug using friends are not ‘real’ friends, drug users do exploit each other (especially women are exploited by partners etc.). I can’t remember if that was included in the scenes but if not, it might be a minor aspect which could be easily incorporated. Prison scene: As someone in the audience said, the speech describing the orgiastic parties was riveting and should be kept in. The first part of that scene – where the prison officers come in and stand almost in awe of the prisoner – did not seem quite right (not sure why) – but I forgot about it when he started telling the tale. In some ways, this scene links to more modern times when drugs in prison, and the ease of getting drugs in prison, have been recognised as a problem. Might be possible to build on  this. Scenes regarding the opium wars: I can’t remember these too well. I think they did convey something of the complex nature of the politics underlying the wars. But they were highly amusing. Billie Carlton and Brilliant Chang: I linked these scenes with the prison story. The scene is a good reflection of the use of cocaine (heroin) for partying by a certain class of people in the early 20th. century. It depicts well the mood and ‘decadence’ – use of drugs for pleasure. But since it has tragic endings and is described in ways which most audience members would probably interpret as linked to other ‘unacceptable’ forms of behaviour practiced by privileged groups and marginalised sub-groups (and not by ‘ordinary’ people), it supports the general tone of the play that the recreational use of drugs is ‘bad’ and will end in tragedy. This could be offset a bit if there could be some inclusion of the sixties ‘hippy’ scenes (educated, middle-class drop-outs, mind expansionists etc.), a cocaine using city banker (There might be an example of this kind of person in the street scene but I can’t remember) etc. They did not all end up addicted or in a bad way. A challenging approach: Personally, I like theatre to challenge the taken-for-granted views/ orthodoxies/ authorities etc. It was interesting that a member of the audience mentioned that the play had made him think about his view of the drug addict – the humanising affect. So, excellent on that. I also especially liked Dreser’s final words – heroin is not the problem, it is people. This is also a challenge to the accepted view point which could be strengthened a bit more in the play which, in my opinion, still very much portrays the dominant attitude that drugs are bad and need to be regulated/controlled (although you don’t say that). There is a big debate around decriminalisation/ legalisation and it would be good to hint at this. (Apologies if I missed it). It throws up issues around the extent to which drug related harm arises because of the illegal status of drugs. The title ‘Scorched Earth’: A good title but does it link back to when you were thinking about Afghanistan, eradication of the poppy fields etc.? I can’t remember spotting a link to the title in the play. If someone doesn’t know about the poppy fields, they might wonder why that title. Contribution to understanding of the history: I was a bit uneasy about the opium wars as I know it was quite a confused and complex situation – but I don’t know the details. Obviously, it will be good to be as accurate as possible. However, I think the play definitely achieves its objective of showing how the approaches to the substance have differed historically.

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