Monday, 15 November 2010

On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco/Can Cause Death

David Bradley in a platform performance of a one-act play by Chekhov – On The Harmful Effects of Tobacco. It concerns a man who is giving – at his wife’s behest – a lecture on this very subject. He however is a smoker and a dissatisfied person. Instead of giving the lecture his discusses his failed dreams, his disappointing family life and the machinations of his wife who – we are led to believe – will soon be watching from the wings. He comes out with many of the tropes of the disappointed male, implying that the blame lies with his wife and six – or is it seven – daughters, as well as the fact his house is number 13 and has 13 windows. It is very amusing and elicits throaty chuckles of appreciation from many male members of the audience, many of whom are much younger than me.

Then, while plangent music is played, Bradley transforms himself into a woman. This is done slowly and purposefully – which is very effective. The actor is now the wife of the lecturer who has recently died. She is giving a eulogy at his funeral. This part of the drama is written by Alison Carr and it represents the wife’s view of the marriage of 33 years. Interestingly it provokes more laughter that the male viewpoint did and from a variety of voices. Her view is that the husband was a hopeless case of unfocussed ambition and desire who failed to follow anything through; she tried to help as best she could but he failed to thrive. I think this interpretation of his character is implicit in Chekhov’s original and the juxtaposition of the two pieces makes for a very satisfying three-quarter of an hour. Bradley’s performance is excellent and the simple staging –it takes places on the set of another play in the Cottesloe repertoire – enables us to concentrate on the drama. It receives a justifiably enthusiastic response.

Cottesloe Theatre

(and Northern Stage 17-18 February 2011)