The Last Cigarette – April 2009

6/10

By Simon Gray and Hugh Whitemore

Directed by Richard Eyre

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Monday 6th April 2009

I was torn between giving this production a 6 or 7/10 rating. The acting was very good, there was a lot of humour and some moving moments, yet overall I found it not as interesting as other pieces on the same subject; the John Diamond/Victoria Coren A Lump In My Throat, for example.

The set was a three-way split, with three identical desks, chairs, pile of books and pair of slippers carefully arranged along radiating patches of carpet. From what I could see (and from a surreptitious feel of the texture) the carpet was a basic mid-blue, with ray-shaped bands which had been speckled with gray paint, resembling cigarette ash. There was a large screen at the back, and although there was a selection of images to illustrate the story being told, the main image was that of a man, presumably Simon Gray himself. Unfortunately, and I don’t know if this was intentional or not, the image was blurred, with two identical pictures being projected slightly out of sync. It was mildly distracting, as I tried to figure it out at first, and then, once I’d realised what it was, I occasionally looked at it again when the offerings on stage weren’t so engrossing.

The three actors, Felicity Kendal, Jasper Britton and Nicholas le Provost, played three versions of the author. Like some gargantuan inner conversation, they took us on a reminiscence through Simon Gray’s life and some of the circumstances around his experience with cancer. The advantage of having three actors doing this was that the ‘spare’ ones could play the parts of the other people in each scene, and the down side to that was that I wasn’t always clear when they were back playing the author again. Felicity Kendal was the hardest for this; although she was very good as a man, so to speak, she naturally played all the woman’s parts required, and I sometimes found I lost track of who she was. But this is a minor quibble; the play was still very entertaining, and we enjoyed ourselves more than we’d expected to.

One more point. Having read one or two reviews beforehand, and at least one from a critic who’d known the man himself, I was glad that we hadn’t known him at all as we didn’t expect accurate impersonation, just a tribute in play form to his life and work. Which we got, and were well satisfied.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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