charming, endearing, and funny, but always carries with it a sense that ultimate doom will be brought on a bed of smoke
George is a heavy smoker in a Yorkshire community who begins the habit at a young age, stealing his mother’s cigarettes with his best friend Neil. Key moments of his life, meeting his future wife, arguments with friends, the death of his mother, all are marked by ever present cigarettes on everyone’s lips.
The biography of George is set to a regular guitar refrain and movement from the actors, who at points act out old cigarette advertisements of major brands still around today, with their logos painted in retro style on 1950s suitcases. There is little explicit suggestion that these adverts influence the young George when he goes searching for his first cigarette in his mother’s bag, and while amusing, it’s not clear what they add to the plot other than a greater audience awareness of tobacco company culpability.
The character of George himself is the peg upon which the rest of the show, with its dance, movement, singing and acting elements, hangs. He is endearingly human and flawed, smoking and drinking in the pub being some of his main pleasures in life. He is not unaware of the risks of smoking, especially after his mother, a chain-smoker, dies, and attempts are made by him to give up. His is a relatable and familiar tale of nicotine addiction. The whole effect of all of this is a show which is charming, endearing, and funny, but always carries with it a sense that ultimate doom will be brought on a bed of smoke. The audience around me were certainly taken with the show, and with the characters of George and his friends, and gave generous applause at the end.
I noted as I entered to the actors in darkness on stage and with cigarettes in their mouths that it is a risk to devise and put on a show about smoking at the Edinburgh Fringe. This is not because of any issue with the content, but because Scotland’s restrictive laws on smoking on stage mean that none of the cigarettes in this production were ever lit. The cast dealt with this extremely well, using lighters in conjunction with the stage lighting to great effect in numerous sequences.
This is a powerful, tragic play, that carries with it enough charm to make it well worth a ticket.