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Alannah Taylor gives her thoughts on the moving and important Zones of Avoidance, a reflection on drug use and safety.

Zones of Avoidance is a chillingly honest examination of a mother-daughter relationship warped by heroin addiction. Written and performed by Maggie Sawkins, this one woman show is primarily a series of poems, intercut with monologue, video and sound.

Directed by Mark C. Hewitt, Sawkins’ work comes to Bristol Improv Theatre for one night as part of ‘Bristol Takes Drugs Seriously’: a week of interactive events organised by Transform, a charitable think tank campaigning for an end to the drug war.

[addiction] coexists with warmth, creativity and a strive for self actualisation.

This is a piece which does not demonise addiction, and which explores drugs from multiple perspectives with refreshing open-mindedness. A series of audio clips from addicts depicts their illness coexisting with warmth, creativity and a strive for self actualisation. In her first few poems, Maggie plays with memories of her own drug experimentation in her youth before she delves into her much heavier subject matter.

The poems are beautifully evocative, documenting a the complexities of living with her daughters’ addiction and schizophrenia. They are clever, and highly literary, and in a way it feels as though Maggie uses her position as the poet to elevate herself from the gritty realities she faces and to instead create commentary from a safe distance.

emphasises small victories with touching courage

The stilted, iambic reading from behind a stand is reminiscent of a church reading, or a small literary gathering: formal, composed, careful. This is contrasted by some far less verbose, far more emotional monologues she delivers while sat at her chair or her desk, shakily pouring wine. In these instances, her agony and isolation is harrowingly present.

These two Maggies, one desensitised and distant, one pained and present, are both equally real. Both, too, remain a world apart from Maggie’s daughter. ‘Sunny Girl’ is evasive, surreal and unreachable. We experience her in a series of bright snapshots, some shocking, some funny, some sweet .

if heroin were legal, [Sawkins’] daughter would have a much better quality of life.

Sawkins does well to avoid romanticising her daughter’s condition, although her portrayal is very tender. In every way, Sawkins’ work is honest and holistic. She offers us a tale of pain punctuated by hope and brightness, and emphasises small victories with touching courage.

Her struggle with love, obligation, rejection and hurt is beautifully expressed. Highly recommended, this extremely personal piece opens up a much larger debate around addiction and drug policy. The performance is followed by a Q&A with Maggie and speakers from Transform, in which Maggie expresses the belief that if heroin were legal, her daughter would have a much better quality of life.

Transform’s campaign week continues with its Anyone’s Child Activist Training, Saturday 7th October, 11am-2pm, at their office on 9-10 King Street, BS1 4EQ, for all those interested in taking a stance against the War on Drugs. Sign up here.


How do you feel about the legal status of drugs discussed in this work? Let us know in the comments below or on social media 

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