Review: Cigarettes and Chocolate

DAVID WARD argues this show demonstrates all that is exciting about the Late Show slot.

ADC Lottie Unwin Minghella Tadgh Barwell O'Connor Theatre

Wednesday 3rd – Saturday 6th, 11, ADC, £4-6.

Directed by Tadhgh Barwell O'Connor.


There continues to pervade the notion, that an 11pm ADC lateshow must either be a wacky comedy, or an experimental abstract drama, in order to entertain an audience. After relaxing quite sleepily into my chair for the opening night of
Minghella's play, I was prepared to find myself agreeing with this notion come the final curtain. Yet, I found something quite engaging and pleasurable about this production that reaffirmed my faith in the versatility of the lateshow slot. Barwell O'Connor's production has a very subtle way of maintaining your attention, without you ever quite being aware of what it all means.

Gemma has stopped talking and no-one quite knows why. Over the course of the hour, the audience is witness to the trivialities of Gemma's friends, as they attempt to work out why she has fallen silent. There's something or other about a holiday to Italy, a small child, an affair, and a homeless woman, but there's nothing explicit about the play, and this is something that Barwell O'Connor draws heavily on in his production. One of the great features is that it never truly explicates. Characters have long monologues which you think help to explain everything, but really just leave you wondering about what it is they are not saying. Silence and pause are effectively utilised, and the production has a tremendous pacing to it, fitting neatly into the hour.

Photos: Will Seymour

Tamzin Merchant cuts a delicate, yet fiery, figure at the heart of the play. Her final monologue seems to mean nothing, only for a tear to run down her cheek, heart-wrenchingly demonstrating to the audience how, whilst the words mean nothing, the unsaid means everything. It is a performance that helps to hold the play together, and Merchant demonstrates tremendous poise and composure in the role. She is ably assisted by the rest of the company, though, if I have one major draw back about the production, it is that the ensemble scenes needed more work. I often longed to return to Gemma and the scenes in her apartment where her friends duologue with the silent woman (subtly and affectingly staged), when there were two speaking characters on-stage. The actors communicate superbly with silence and with themselves, but there was little sense of history or intimacy between them when exchanging dialogue. Before leaving the cast, I must mention Brid Arnstein's duologue with the silent Gemma toward the end of the performance. Her delivery, pacing, and interiority were simply fantastic.

I must encourage you to see this production, if only to see how an atypical lateshow has the power to entertain its audience. Be prepared to let it sink in subconsciously, and revel in its loaded silences. It's a refined and challenging affair that succeeds in never answering the questions that the audience may seek to pose.