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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 Smoking Ban


Written and directed by Jonathan Brown (Something Underground Theatre Company) 
Brighton Fringe: Friends Meeting House

Well before the ban on smoking in public places most large workplaces had already decided to put smokers out onto the street. Tobacco company offices were an exception, though. It was a curious experience being back in a smoke-filled room when I visited. I suppose they were just putting their mouths where their money was.

Smoking Ban, the play, takes us into the offices of the fictional Anglo American Tobacco where lighting up a fag signals company loyalty. Carol (Kate Goodfellow) is apparently the loyalest of the lot, her job title health & science officer a thin cover for the PR spin she presents to doubting audiences.

But what starts as an amusing satire on the tobacco industry develops into much more, raising some pretty deep questions about the nature of addiction and the impact of commodification.

Not bad in 75 minutes, and not bad either for a one-woman show in which Carol/Goodfellow  impersonates the characters around her, slipping effortlessly between them, at one point shagging herself as her boss, Jerry.

Jerry has his own theories about smoking and addiction, seeing himself as like a vast global wet-nurse, the millions of cigs sucked on by his customers so many millions of teats. He's a one, is Jerry.

He also believes that it's doctors who cause addiction by convincing people they're addicted and therefore removing their free-will and ability to give up. If it wasn't for the fact that Jerry is such a nasty man, sexist and racist to boot, and only trying to evade responsibility, this would make an interesting debating point.

Meanwhile, Carol's own corporate shell cracks and her identity splinters. She is Anglo-American too, you see. And her American father is half-Pawnee, and it was native Americans, of course, who smoked tobacco first.

Pregnant with Jerry's child, Carol is forced to prove her loyalty by smoking a cigarette, but it's her Pawnee part that inhales, transporting her back into a culture where tobacco had a quite different meaning.

Some have found this epiphany unconvincing, but it's a valid and dramatic way of suggesting the way that drugs are woven into and transformed by the societies in which they're consumed.

And what no one can surely deny is Kate Goodfellow's own protean performance, which holds the audience in its seductive grip like an addiction.

June 2, 2014

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