Dying To Get Clean – A look into the world of Heroin Addiction in “Cuckoo”

Published: 30th October 2019

Posted by Will, aged 14, about his work experience day with us in rehearsals for our project ‘Cuckoo’, exploring county lines drugs dealing
  • In the United Kingdom, the most commonly sought out treatment for drug addiction is centred around heroin, a shocking 42% of all cases, which is nearly the same for cannabis, cocaine and amphetamine users combined (a respective 25, 15, and 2 percent each). Despite this, the number of overall heroin users and overdoses from heroin has dramatically increased over the past five years, in addition to this, it is also the least seized drug within undercover operations and police raids.
  • Nancy Hirst, director of Cuckoo and Artistic director of Icon Theatre, based in Chatham, Medway, invited me to her Research and development rehearsals for her new production of Cuckoo, set to be showcased in the Jackson Lane Theatre in North London. She explained to me the premise of cuckooing (the action of drug dealer’s using a vulnerable person’s home as a base of operations, supply and production) and the effect it had on communities throughout London and in the Medway area. She also spoke to some degree of her own experiences of seeing addicts abusing heroin and how it pushed her to want to create Cuckoo.
  • Speaking on her own behalf of years of theatrical experience, she said that “the process of forming the scenes in the play should never allow you to just get on and do it, because if that does happen, then the audience wont feel for the characters and we need to than find what can we add to make it challenging for ourselves as we do it.”
  • When I arrived to the rehearsal studio in London, I was not greeted as another company might when beginning to work with a group on a piece of repertoire, there was no warm-up game as such, instead, I was thrust into the life and death of the beloved brother to a man named Bill, known as John.
  • Bill, who was informed of John’s death sometime after it had occurred via a phone call from the police, told us that his brother wasn’t unintelligent or homeless or a typical addict as others may be seen as. That he was a normal person who worked as a guitar teacher to pay his rent for the flat he lived in, had an education from university and had some friends and relationships outside from his addiction.
  • John was said to have suffered throughout all of his addiction, seeking help from the NHS on multiple occasions but being asked to see his GP or contact the mental health charity MIND for further help and advice, whilst his application for support and medication was measured out by a tick box-chart of 1-10 for how he felt on a single day. Bill ended his discussion by presenting us with a book of poetry written by John, some mere days before his death, as a glimpse for how life still existed within the poor souls of substance abusers.
  • The rehearsal continued on after Bill left, but the after-effects could be seen on the actors as they devised the physicality of a typical street “junkie”. Despite this, it was clear that the conversations had were meaningful on the actors mindsets and structured the tone in which the play was to be staged around, as well as the narrative that was to be told in it.
  • Looking back after leaving the studio, I realise little has been changed in the past 100 years since drugs have been outlawed and the ways in which addicts are treated. In the year 2000, the Portuguese government implemented a law to ensure it went from the country with the worst cases of overdosing in Europe to one of the best, by legalising all drugs and spending all the funding they would use to hunt down drug dealers on helping addicts to recover in a safe and stable environment. The resulting effects saw a rapid decrease in overdoses and addiction rates, with them being halved overall.
  • I can’t pinpoint Portugal and say its system is perfect for recovery, but I can certainly say its much better than support found in Britain.