Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereof is based on the Anton Chekhov play of a similar name in which the protagonist, Ivan (Andrew Buckland) has been bullied by his wife (Toni Morkel) into giving a lecture on the dangers of smoking.
While humorous on the surface, the undertones of the story reveal ominously dark emotions. Ivan constantly gets distracted from his unscientific and loosely researched material and digresses to his oppressive relationship with his tyrannical wife. The audience serves as the class, in whom he confides his frustration at his inability to break free from his wife and the vast number of offspring to which he is shackled.
Perhaps South Africa’s most well-known proponent of physical theatre, Andrew Buckland (Blue/Orange, Scrooge, Laugh the Buffalo), tackles the role of Ivan tirelessly. With his relentless busyness on stage and his child-like inability to keep still, the audience can sense the aggravation of Ivan. The way in this disturbance manifests in human form is handled with a subtle dark humour through Buckland’s exemplary comedic timing and his extraordinarily expressive physical comedy skills.
Director Sylvaine Strike steers this frustration and Buckland’s experience to a highly successful interpretation of the character of Ivan. The script, reworked by William Harding and others, adds a depth to the other characters referred to in the play, allowing Ivan to tell stories of his daily situations, thereby building on his sympathetic rapport with the audience.
There’s very little on stage to aid the play except a gramophone and a suitcase in the corner, and a hollow log which serves as everything from a lectern to a raft. The stage lighting is similarly minimalist, kept dark for the majority of the time, in line with the dark comedy.
Although peppered with laughs and anecdotes from the protagonist, Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereof doesn’t so much serve to entertain its audience as to show-off the artistic prowess of Buckland. But this is a spectacular sight in itself, and well worth the ticket price.
Tobacco and the Harmful Effect Thereof runs at the Baxter Theatre Centre until 13 June 2015.