Tobacco, Assembly George Square Studios, Review

Submitted by Jon Cross on Fri, 11 Aug '17 3.18pm
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
The Baxter Theatre Centre at the University of Cape Town
Sylvaine Strike (director), William Harding (adaptation)
Andrew Buckland (Ivan), Toni Morkel (wife)
Running time

Taking a Chekhov monologue as a starting point (and with a good few dashes of Kafka, Longfellow and Edward Lear), Tobacco manages to be simultaneously absurd and profound, hilarious and deeply sad.

A middle-aged man in an ill-fitting old suit steps gingerly up onto the stage. He has, he explains nervously, been instructed by his wife to deliver a lecture on the harmful effects of tobacco. Ivan explains that he is not a professor, nor indeed did he finish university, but he does possess an intellectual curiosity, and he has been the author of several approximately scientific articles. His wife runs a boarding school, or something in the manner of a boarding school, where he keeps the accounts, teaches dance and kills the bed bugs.

The lecture does not begin well; he enjoys a smoke himself and is able to extol the many benefits of tobacco. After that, every attempt to stick to the theme of the lecture is doomed to failure as digression follows upon digression, as he repeatedly takes time out to describe his wife’s physical attributes (with increasingly elaborate similes), goes off on a tirade about the insurmountable challenges of organising a picnic for a distinctly modern family, or decides to demonstrate his dancing skills.

His wife is a constant presence, though she is not yet in the hall. He hates her, he loves her and he loves his family of seven daughters and thirteen sons. But he longs to escape, to change and run away and become someone else, someone free. How would that ever be possible?

Andrew Buckland delivers a truly masterful performance as Ivan the tragic clown. The script, given that it is in part a translation, has delightfully natural rhythms. And the two simple pieces of stage furniture are used to increasingly inventive effect as the drama unfolds.

This is very simply a great piece of theatre.

5- 27August (not 14,21)at 12:00, Age: PG