Edinburgh Fringe 2017
“Triple Fringe First winner Andrew Buckland excels in this haunting and funny two-hander that charts a man’s journey towards transformation and metamorphosis. Instructed by his domineering wife to give a lecture on the harmful effects of tobacco (even though he himself is only a small smoker), Ivan discovers the wondrous possibility of being seen and heard for the first time, relishing every moment of his new-found freedom. With her signature, delicate and nuanced style, attention to detail and sublime aesthetic, director Sylvaine Strike once again creates a little gem with massive artistic impact, earning the play several accolades.”
We are greeted by an endearing man in a grey suit carrying a crate of personal items on to the stage. Ivan is a polite shy gentleman married to a powerful wife. This is an excellent two-person comedic play, it’s entertaining, humorous and very well acted. Ivan is trying for the first time to take focus and speak about tobacco and its qualities. He’s a fascinating and affable character who, like many, is uncomfortable speaking in public. He is in earnest and has a go – armed with a voluminous pile of notes – and then off he goes – sort of!
The set comprises a shelf with a phonograph machine and a podium. Andrew Buckland a successful actor and physical actor who plays a henpecked husband with clown qualities play Ivan. It is these qualities that are at the fore in this play and carry it through to a successful production. Buckland is exceptional at physical acting and subtle facial reactions to the audience. He is solo on the stage for the majority of the play and speaks directly to the audience. Ivan has some issues about life – which are valid – and feels he’d like to break free a bit.
Based on a monologue by Anton Chekhov on the harmful effects of tobacco, William Harding has combined the text with excerpts and inspiration from Franz Kafka, Edward Lear, Andre Breton and a few others. It’s heady stuff, but Ivan manages to go off telling relatable anecdotes and stories about other things, much to his wife’s dismay. She is played by Toni Morkel, an actor skilled in physical acting and performs in silence mainly, but is staged exquisitely in several brief appearances. I don’t want to spoil the surprises but trust me that these are brilliant moments in the play.
Ivan is enthused when talking about his own interests and Buckland’s comedic physical acting that ensues is excellent. It’s not about superficial first ideas in the physical acting either, the movement is creative, meaningful, a bit silly and well developed. It’s also unusual and idiosyncratic. Buckland’s nifty fingers and gestures are effective showing the finesse of his character. Now and again Buckland will make a strange sound showing his excitement although he does have a compelling resonant voice. Ivan is very articulate and probably very well educated, he must be because he uses words like ‘parsimony’. He is an intellectual clown with a charming ridiculous side.
What is most impressive is Ivan’s arc and the difference between how he starts and how he finishes, he makes great progress towards his goals. Starting with talking about gluten free items he ends up so far away you will not be able to predict! It’s quite a journey, led by director Sylvaine Strike very effectively.
Tobacco is a presentation of The Baxter Theatre Centre in Cape Town, South Africa. With Buckland and Morkel both based there.
The sixty five minute show is simply a feast of excellent acting and physicality through the eyes of Buckland’s Ivan, a charming theatrical character. It’s also quirky and well acted with dimension and substance. Do not miss Tobacco!