Dementia is something that affects not only the sufferer but also those around them and, if there are just the two of you left then the pain is probably equally as bad for both of you – if not worse for the one that has to watch their friend decline. He Gave Me Heroin by James Aden, at the King’s Head Theatre gives a powerful glimpse of what life must be like in this circumstance.
On a wet morning, with the rain teeming down outside, Marion (Janette Eddisford) comes into the kitchen and starts making tea. Dressed in a nightie and dressing gown, she wanders round getting the mugs and everything ready, seemingly not noticing the body of Sadie (Sally C Davis) lying on the floor beneath her feet. After a while though Marion does address her recumbent friend and the two of them start a conversation as she helps Sadie back up and onto a chair. Their conversation throughout the next hour or so, meanders around, sometimes consisting of nothing more than the two of them exchanging ancient proverbs in a friendly but also competitive fashion. At other points, a chance word or sentence will trigger something in Sadie’s memory and start a conversation that takes the girls back to their younger more carefree days. Unfortunately, Some of Sadie’s memories are about events that happened to other people – even though she is convinced they happened to her. Luckily, Marion is there to put her straight and to provide gaps when Sadie’s mind forgets things the two did together. Sadie is meant to take some tablets but as she is convinced the doctor – against whom she has taken an irrational dislike – has given her heroin instead of medication, she refuses to take them. And then Saide remembers something that has the potential to change the ladies relationship completely and, in this one instance, Marion is unable to ‘correct’ Sadie who is emphatic her recollection of events is correct.
One hour is not a long time in which to get to know two people but by the end of He Gave Me Heroin I really felt I had come to know both Marion and Sadie not only as the two elderly bickering ladies they are today but also as the young girls starting they were before. And I really sympathised with both of them as the years robbed them of everything they held dear. Watching Marion’s reaction as she saw her friend slipping away was quite heartbreaking, and especially the moment where she was forced to question the basis upon which their friendship – though the two were more like sisters than friends – had been built and maintained.
Director Ralf Higgins keeps all the action around the kitchen table – the ‘heart of the home’ being a most appropriate setting for this story I thought – and this leads to some wonderfully comic moments over the green tea (with milk?) and Sadie’s attempts to move around. Both actresses really are excellent in their respective roles and there is a real feeling of camaraderie between the two of them as people as well as characters. Sally C Davis brings a wonderful sense of realism to Sadie as she goes through various emotional states during her discussion with Janette Eddisford’s Marion, and I was really moved by Janette’s performance of this lady who was watching her best friend slowly leaving her all alone. The writing is nicely paced – James must have spent hours with a book of proverbs – and I loved the ending which, to me at least, felt nicely ambiguous as Marion left the stage.
To sum up, He Gave Me Heroin tackled a very difficult subject head on without becoming too mawkish or sentimental but in such a way that it ensured my eyes never left the stage throughout the entire poignant and highly emotional journey. This really is a fantastically written, superbly produced play with truly wonderful acting throughout.
Review by Terry Eastham
He Gave Me Heroin by James Aden
FESTIVAL 45 @ Kings Head Theatre, Upper St, Islington, London
Celebrate 45 years of The Kings Head at this new writing festival
Marion and Sadie chew the fat along with pills, gossip, tea & biscuits. A sweetly nostalgic and sometimes surreal piece about friendship, love, death, drugs and dementia. Honest and abstract this piece takes the audience on a journey that questions our memories and our views on the world today as seen from the eyes of someone whose thoughts may or may not be her own. 2 Hander, 60 mins produced by Lantern Theatre Brighton