Review – The Last Cigarette, Trafalgar Studios

Wednesday 6 May 2009

the-last-cigaretteFamously the Whingers never indulge in any form of artificial stimulation although there are those who have attached soubriquets to them that might suggest otherwise.

Theatre is really the only nasty habit to which they have ever become addicted. But unlike alcohol, nicotine, illegal substances and caffeine not only does it fall short of the epithet of “stimulant”,  it often fails even to keep the Whingers awake.

But it was fitting that the Whingers dropped in to see The Last Cigarette last night for health had been something of a topic for the day.

Phil had spent most of his day waiting by his front door for the government leaflet about swine flu to pop through his slot only to be disappointed. The only flyers that fluttered through were from Pizza Direct and Pizza Pomodoro but spookily even they proved to be on-topic by advertising Mexicana and Mexican Hot pizzas respectively.

And as the Whingers took their seats in the hot, cramped and vertiginous (even in Row H) Trafalgar Studios an American woman in the row in front was proclaiming loudly to her friends: “I’d kiss you but I might contaminate you.” It wasn’t just Phil who looked alarmed.

The Last Cigarette is a Hugh Whitemore/Simon Gray adaptation of the latter’s memoirs The Smoking Diaries and recounts- inter alia – how his obsessive 60 a day habit led to lung cancer.

Telling the story are three Simon Grays played by Jasper Britton, Felicity Kendal CBE and Nicholas Le Prevost. Surprisingly this three-way splitting of the story-telling works better than it sounds although sadly not as cunningly as the two-way split between the Alan Bennetts in The Lady in the Van.

But Phil couldn’t really concentrate being completely unable to take his eyes off Miss Kendal (Rear of the year 1981, a title awarded to Sue Pollard 7 years later) because she still looks absurdly youthful and despite her slightly Glynis Johns vocal croaks doesn’t look as if she could possibly have smoked a cigarette in her life.

The Whingers marvelled at her youthful looks the last time they saw her in The Vortex, but possibly because at TLC they were sitting quite close (absurdly good value at £10 plus booking fee from lastminute.com), Phil swears she looked even younger in the second act. Could she be Benjamin Button?

Phil found the first act rather dull despite Richard Eyre‘s lively direction and couldn’t get engaged with the copious family stories of Gray’s youth. He found it a bit like one of those actors’ autobiographies you read where he rambles on about his childhood and you just want him to get to the bit when interesting things start to happen such as going on a drunken road trip with Elizabeth Taylor or being told a filthy joke by Princess Margaret in a jacuzzi. If either of these things ever happened to Simon Gray he was too discreet to mention them and Phil had to content himself with a mention of Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser.  In fact nothing really dramatic happens until the diagnosis at the end of the first act which leads, rather sadly, to a much more engaging second act.

Despite the panache of the cast, the upbeat pace and Gray’s humorous observations  the Whingers emerged from the theatre somewhat depressed with Andrew particularly reminded of his own mortality.

Being reminded of Andrew’s mortality perked Phil up considerably. But each neurotically attended to his body for any sign that expiry might be imminent. Andrew expressed a living will with instructions that if he were ever to need a catheter (as happened in the play) Phil was to smother him with his hospital pillow. Phil did wonder aloud if it was worth risking the wait – after all, he might not happen to be around at the time.

3 Responses to “Review – The Last Cigarette, Trafalgar Studios”

  1. Miriam Says:

    Sad to hear this has posted closing notices already…

    • jasp Says:

      Thanks Miriam, we gave it our best shot, but due to a raft of typical Simon Grayish calamities, we bombed. Hay ho, gotta love showbiz, I suppose…

  2. Andy Says:

    Try http://www.simongray.org.uk for a complete archive of Simon’s work (including The Last Cigarette) as well as original production photos, video and audio clips from his radio and television plays, guest blogs and an online bookshop.


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