EFR - Reviews of Cigarettes and Chocolate

Cigarettes and Chocolate

Mon 15th – Sat 20th August 2011

reviews

Ellen Marsh

at 14:30 on 17th Aug 2011

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Cigarettes and Chocolate was originally a radio play, written by Anthony Minghella, and these origins are patently obvious in this stage adaptation. The script is wordy, and the heavy use of background noise effects is reminiscent of an afternoon on Radio 4. Gemma has decided to give up speaking, and the play documents the effect of this decision on her group of friends.

The wordiness of the script poses a challenge to the actors, who handle monologues far better than dialogue. In much of this the actors either stumble over their lines, or the delivery is stilted. On radio these lines would sound more natural – such is the nature of that medium – but here all conversations seem over-rehearsed and fake.

Louisa Harris, who plays Gemma, is silent apart from in two scenes, but her constant presence onstage reminds the audience of her decision to be silent, in a way that must have been handled very differently in the original radio production. However, she does not offer much response to what happens around her, making her presence feel unnecessary.

The main problem with Cigarettes and Chocolate is that it does not seem to gain anything by being put onstage. There are no startling visuals, and I had the feeling that I could have closed my eyes and lost none of the effect. The play has much to say about the creation of character in drama – as the characters speak about Gemma we learn about her, and about them. The play both tells us about the importance of speech and the beauty of silence. These are all interesting ideas, but they are not demonstrated and communicated particularly effectively, and there is something far more arresting about the exploring the idea of silence through radio – an entirely aural medium.

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Harriet Baker

at 18:21 on 17th Aug 2011

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‘Cigarettes and chocolate’ is an engaging concept from the first. The opening scene has the characters coming onstage one by one, leaving voicemail messages to the noise of traffic behind. They are all ringing Gemma; they want her to pick up or ring back, but she sits silently in the corner. Gemma has chosen not to speak, a decision she describes in one of her two soliloquies as “a kind of suicide”. She has chosen to disengage herself from her friends and their lives, to exist in rich silence and solitude. The effect of quiet versus noise is brilliantly done onstage; a constant swirl of background noise provides a familiar wall of sound to every scene. Conversations among Gemma’s friends, about Gemma, occur to the sounds of traffic, a restaurant, or an office. As Gemma’s silence deepens, their talking increases, and her friends’ reactions are intriguing. They are baffled, incredulous, pleading and angry, and find themselves talking to her in a way they hadn’t before; each monologue becomes confessional, and Gemma learns of secrets, transgressions, infidelities and love. What is revealed most crucially are the characters’ hypocrisies and selfishness, failing to understand Gemma’s decision to be silent or distract it from their relationship with her, and ultimately themselves.

Originally written by Anthony Minghella for the radio, RUDS’s adaptation is in some respects brilliant, and in others, adequate. The effect of a build-up of noise at the beginning is effective, whilst the play of silence against noise is intriguing and very well done. Phone messages, conversations about central heating and sudden invasions of the stage by multiple characters produce the effect of noise as a kind of pain, to speak being an act of aggression whilst the babble of words neutralizes into banality. These stage invasions are brilliant, and demonstrate the part-success of the adaptation, yet there are moments that jar, such as an attempt to show the characters on a tube onstage.

Louisa Harris as Gemma produces two moving monologues, yet the actual reason for her silence seems only partially revealed. Matt Urwin, playing her boyfriend Rob, uses words as weapons; he is aggressive and selfish, loud on the stage. The standard of acting is not superb; Susie Pincock fumbles her words several times and is unconvincing as she is garrulous. Smaller roles, such as Ceyda Izmen as Lorna and Jack Thompson as Sample, are uninteresting and do not have weight among the other characters. The characters did not interact convincingly, I cared little for them.

Conceptually this play is a gem, and although it is adapted well for the stage and some interesting effects are put into play, I do not feel the level of acting merits it with a higher status. It is a very good production, but missing the nuances and subtleties to make it brilliant.

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