Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is the grandaddy of the junkie philosophy genre and the inspiration behind Andrew Dallmeyer’s biographical play Opium Eater. Now Alasdair McCrone, artistic director of the Mull Theatre, is bringing ‘the Trainspotting of the 1800s’ to the stage again after 20 years.
Prior to its short run at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, McCrone explains the reasons behind its revival. ‘The timing was right,’ he says. ‘I wanted a small-scale drama, and what sits at the heart of the story is the symbiotic relationship between the two characters.’ After being pestered by Dallmeyer to give it a read, he was surprised by its realism, relevance and above all, its humour. This may strike those familiar with the original as odd – tales of addiction and penury are rarely side-splitting stuff – but there’s a certain comic value in recounting scenes and experiences so out of kilter with our perceptions of the buttoned-up early Victorian era. Twenty years after the publication of the Confessions, the erstwhile English genius spent two years in Edinburgh squatting in the Grassmarket and living hand-to-mouth peddling magazine articles to get his next laudanum fix, and it is here that Opium Eater takes place. Ultimately, though, the story’s about not drugs but relationships, specifically the odd and touching comradeship between the beleaguered writer and local simpleton Willy, an errand boy turned friend who isn’t quite as daft as he appears. ‘It may be historical, but it’s not dated,’ insists McCrone. ‘Tales about the human condition have no sell-by-date.’
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 15–Sat 18 Sep