Monday, 15 November 2010


When did it become obligatory for stage presentations to include characters smoking? Perhaps when it became illegal to smoke in the workplace, with the stage the only exception, and directors couldn't resist the urge to exploit their freedom. Or perhaps it's just that the childish show-off which lurks inside most performers, taking delight in contrarian gestures and shocking the grown-ups, is moved to try anything which is so widely condemned.

Either way, we've noticed over the last couple of years a remarkable epidemic of gratuitous smoking sweeping across the London (and Edinburgh and no doubt every other) stage. Sometimes it's justified because it's in the script. In Blasted, which was written in 1995, long before the smoking ban, the journalist smokes (and coughs and has apparently had a lung removed) and the girl keeps telling him to stop because it's bad for him; it is I suppose plausible that a journalist of his age and vintage would smoke, though it doesn't make the character any more believable.

Sometimes it's justified in helping to establish time and place. Serenading Louie at the Donmar was set in suburban Chicago c 1970 and they all smoked furiously; but then in 1970 Chicago they would have done. (At one point a character in need of comfort and contemplation takes a pipe out of a drawer and sucks on it meditatively.)

But what was the plump soprano singing Tiridate in Radamisto doing lighting up (and was the character really using a cigarette-holder)?

Did it add much to Tribes that the son was a smoker? OK, it was authentic, and we were told he used the greenhouse as a smoking room. But did we need to see him and his brother's girlfriend sharing a sneaky fag on stage when the grown-ups were out, then desperately trying to wave the smoke away when they returned?

The actors rarely look comfortable smoking, since few must do it in real life. The cigarettes always seem to burn out in no time (do they have special theatrical cigarettes that light up and then go out instantly, to minimise the risk of fire on stage?). It's become a standing joke.

Henceforth these reviews will note instances of unjustified Token Smoking and make a tally at the year end.

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