REVIEW: The Last Cigarette

PUBLISHED: 12:15 08 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:10 07 September 2010

Jasper Britton, Felicity Kendall and Nicholas Le Provost dressed in identical slacks and blue shirts are in front of three identical desks bearing typewriters and with papers strewn about. In perfect synchr

THE LAST CIGARETTE

Trafalgar Studios

Four stars

Jasper Britton, Felicity Kendall and Nicholas Le Provost dressed in identical slacks and blue shirts are in front of three identical desks bearing typewriters and with papers strewn about. In perfect synchronicity, they take out cigarettes flick their lighters and take a long draw. In solo and in unison they play the different aspects of playwright Simon Gray and all the people, loved or despised, who surround him.

One might well think that his whole life was a hymn to the life-enhancing habit of smoking. "I resent all the millions and millions of cigarettes I did not smoke!" he says. Nevertheless he managed his 60 a day for most of his life, though it was a shock when he was diagnosed with cancer - everyone thought he was indestructible.

The play, taken from The Smoking Diaries, is full of Gray's special kind of humour - witty, acerbic and dark. This is a man who makes as much fun of his death as he does of his life, and his funniest moments are his encounters with the various doctors dealing with his condition

The three actors deal adeptly with the changes in him and with the various characters in his life - his Canadian grandmother who smelled of peppermint to cover the odour of the sherry that she consumed in large quantities; the grandfather who was jealous of her love for her grandchildren and enacted a terrible revenge; his adolescent love for his friend Robert Simmons, a young man with a death wish; his sadness over the death of his friend Harold Pinter, with whom he used to discuss symptoms as they puffed away at their Silk Cuts.

He had a complex relationship with his father who is the subject of one of his wry stories. Another heavy smoker, he asked for a cigarette on his deathbed only to be told that it would ruin his health.

The play is a humorous story of his journey in life right until the bitter end of his dying - not of the throat cancer that had been diagnosed, but of an aneurysm. His final joke.

Until August 1.

Aline Waites


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