Monday, August 07, 2006

Shouting fire in a crowded theatre

This makes me so furious that I can barely speak:

The Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh will be shut down if actor Mel Smith flouts Scotland's smoking ban, its director has been told. The comedian, who is playing Winston Churchill in a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, is said to be planning to smoke during a performance on Monday. The actor recently vowed to continue to ignore the ban at the Fringe festival.

Venue director William Burdett Coutts said he was in an "extremely serious situation". He said he has also been told he will lose his Fringe licence for good if the actor smokes during his performance.Mr Burdett Coutts said: "We have just been visited by the chief enforcement officer who has told me if Mel Smith smokes on stage then I will be given a £1,000 fine and he will shut down the entire premises. He said he would also never give me a licence again so I'm in an extremely serious situation.

"I have been to speak to Mel but he hasn't given me assurances that he will not smoke during his show. I think it is stupid when smoking is an integral part of a show to enforce this law. I am all for a smoking ban in bars but not to have an actor smoking while he represents a character in history who did smoke is absurd."

This is utterly unbelievable. The refusal to grant an exemption to actors smoking on stage during a play was always petty and moronic; the threat to withdraw the Assembly Rooms' license - for good - if an actor playing Churchill lights a cigar on stage is grotesquely over the top, and makes a mockery of Edinburgh's claim to be the hub of artistic freedom and expression for three weeks every year.

I hadn't been planning to watch this show, but now I might. Smith is on stage as I write this. I hope he has lit the fucking thing by now - and I bet there is a rousing standing ovation when he does.

It's ironic that the touchpaper should be lit by a play about Churchill, reckoned by many to be our nation's greatest hero of modern times; the man who helped saved us from the worst imaginable tyranny. And many people, myself included, throw the word "fascism" about far too lightly; none of us will, I hope, know real fascism in our lifetimes. But that the authorities now seem set to ban a play about his life for the ubiquitous, and entirely disingenuous, reason of "health and safety" is a small, but telling, commentary on where we are as a society; and, in the circumstances, "fascist" seems an entirely appropriate description of the Council's behaviour.

UPDATE: Faced with the realization that an accurate portrayal of his character would quite possibly cost the venue its license, and several people their jobs, Smith did not light the cigar. I find it hard to express how enraging and dispiriting I find all this. The cunts win, again.


Anonymous said...

Mr Eugenides, I usually agree with you, but you really are spouting a pile of steaming shit here.

To paraphrase, your liberty to spout you filthy, disgusting, smelly smoke ends where my respiratory tract begins. You are entirely right about one thing: to use the word fascist in these circumstances is just ardent nonsense.

As far as exceptions are concerned, if you remember, this is where the English legislation ran into quite so much trouble; as soon as you allow one exception, you open a can of worms. No smoking indoors. Full stop.

Bishop Hill said...

It's not YOUR property Mark.

Anonymous said...

I bet Smith never had any intention of lighting up. It was just a cheap publicity stunt for what I imagine is a poor play

Your main point is correct.
(Until the time that people are frogmarched at gunpoint into theatres to watch actors smoke)

Anonymous said...

My respiratory tract, bishop hill? No, that's definitely mine.

Anonymous said...

Mark, it's very simple, all you have to do is avoid the theatre and your respiratory tract will be saved. You fucking moron.

AntiCitizenOne said...

(Until the time that people are frogmarched at gunpoint into theatres to watch actors smoke)

and pubs etc.

Anonymous said...

The person who made this decision is presumably a civil servant.

Which elected representative can be voted out of office for employing him/her?

Anyone fancy setting up a website called which publishes the name and address of any elected official who allows one of their civil servants to behave like an illiberal twat?

Devil's Kitchen said...


You are the kind of fucking tosser that I wouldn't have soiling anywhere I am. You total cunt.

The real point here is about the rewriting of history; "Churchill" cannot smoke, so he never smoked. Gritty plays about the slums is Glasgow cannot allow smoking, so they do not smoke. I have written at length about this before. And let us be absolutely clear: the ban on smoking on stage, or on television or film sets, was entirely deliberate. It is going to lose Scotland millions of pounds; it is one of the reasons that I switched my opinions and am now in favour of an independent Scotland; because, whilst it will lose Scotland millions, the Executive won't notice because they are funded from collective taxes.


Mr Eugenides said...

I don't smoke, Mark; I have asthma. Being in smoky rooms sometimes, though not always, causes me trouble with my breathing. I'm willing to bet my life - literally - that Mel Smith's cigar would not have caused me even the slightest hint of discomfort.

Before March, that sometimes affected my choice of pubs etc.

I was still against the smoking ban, because no-one was forcing me to drink in a smoky room, and I am smart enough to know that if no-one speaks up when they come for smokers, next it will be the beer-drinkers or the steak-eaters, and no-one will speak up for me.

Do we ban strobe lighting in plays? Pyrotechnics? I went to a production of Tosca once where they wafted a bit of incense into the auditorium during Act I. Should I have complained about my human rights being breached?

Put a health notice on the flyers. If you don't want to smell cigar smoke, then don't go to the fucking production. End of.

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