Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Last Cigarette (Trafalgar Studios)

Nice theatre, easy to find, opposite the National Gallery, under Nelson's Column, on Trafalgar Square (hence the name), you'd think easy to find so long as you remember which bloody tube stop all those things are at. Which I just couldn't!! But it was Charing Cross, I got there in the end- with ten minutes to spare, not even time to check where the stage door was (I'm not usually a lurker, only when what's-his-name is involved. He seems very well by the way.)
If anyone reads this journal of Matt Morgan style Cultural Reviews then hear this, You Can See the Hills finishes on Saturday so my review came too late, sorry I'm not actually invited to Press Nights, The Last Cigarette however opened two weeks ago and will be there until August. So go and see it, it's great.
I've read Simon Gray's Smoking Diaries, he wrote exactly as I would like to write, exactly as all my favourite writers write, full of cynicism and hatred and humor. The play was based I think (if my memory serves) on the first and the last book. I recognized it all as it was curiously and amusingly brought to life. In his diaries he argues constantly with himself, questions his memories until he answers himself with suggestions. The play was staged very cleverly and I did believe that all three actors were Simon Gray- even Felicity Kendal, well, most of the time.
The first half of the play is a lot of Gray's childhood and the second is him dying, but it is not a sad play, it is very funny, I didn't come out thinking "Oh god, he died," I thought, "oh good, a happy ending!" Strange really...
The three actors argue with each other as Gray, sitting at their identical desks talking to themselves- or should this be each other? Or is it the same thing?- But most of the time they are not all Simon Gray, they all speak Gray's thoughts, but usually there is just one Simon Gray and the others play the parts of the people he's talking about, they slip in and out of character, with particularly memorable characters. I'd read a lot about Felicity Kendal's nurse/aspiring writer, now I see why, very very funny (Try picturing Felicity Kendal playing a big 45 year old black woman from Barbados). And also about Nicholas le Prevost's chipmunk-faced consultant (people cheered when he returned!) He reminded me of someone I know actually, though maybe he just reminded me of Nicholas le Prevost...
Jasper Britton was very very good too, he played Si's father and at the beginning the electrician who wanted to see the cheeseboard. But I feel that he mostly played Gray while the other two- unquestionably character actors- made the very most of their talents. Together though, all three Simon Grays were extremely good, it was never confusing but always very clever.
The set was cute though the huge print of actual Simon Gray, grey ink on black screens creeped me out a bit, I'm sure it became more 3D at times, or maybe that was just my eyes...
It was a very enjoyable play, I mean, yes, it is about a man dying, no though, it's about a man's life, probably a very normal life, but that's why we can identify and enjoy these horrible embarrassing situations and feelings and not think "this is a play about cancer" it's not at all, it's a very funny play about an extremely talented writer.
Himself told me afterwards that there were parts in it he didn't like, and I was tempted to ask which bits, but I didn't because I liked it so much that I didn't want to have second thoughts and agree with him. Nick also didn't think it was a fitting tribute at all (self-deprecating handsome bastard!), and being a fan of the books I admitted I agreed, but said; "some sort of tribute though."


  1. I liked The Smoking Diaries a lot - have you read any of the other volumes of Gray's memoirs? It's one of four, right?

    The play sounds really interesting. I see you had another chat with NLP, congratulations!

    Did all the actors take up smoking for the play, or did they already smoke, or was it fake smoking for health and safety reasons?

  2. All three claim to be ex-smokers (I'm guessing himself quits all the time, after all he's smoked a cigarette in my face before- erotic it was.) but they never lit up. The audience was treated to a bunch of smoke appearing from nowhere though! I read all of the Smoking Diaries and I read the diary he kept after writing the play The Common Pursuit. I haven't got any money otherwise I'd be at amazon buying more now, The Unnatural Pursuit was especially good as it was about putting on a play...
    The play was really good but it closed early on friday because of low ticket sales (they were bloody expensive with no student discounts or anything...) It got fab reviews and I thought it was great, but ho hum, that's the way it goes.