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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 August 2007, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Is smoking on stage allowed?
The Magazine answers...

Keith Richards
Keith Richards manages a grin despite not having a cigarette to hand
Old rebels Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood have flouted convention again by lighting up on stage in London. What happens when performers breach the smoking ban?

Before their first gig in London since the smoking ban was introduced, long-time smokers Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood were warned that they could be fined 50 for lighting up on stage.

Perhaps they forgot, having smoked while strumming for 40 years. Perhaps, with an estimated wealth well into the squillions, they could spare a few paltry fifties.

Smoking may be allowed for 'artistic integrity' - but not in Scotland
Otherwise they - or the venue - can be fined
But Greenwich council will take no action, satisfied that it was a one-off - and their cigarettes were "extinguished almost faster than the message to put it out got to stage," an official said.

The veteran rockers also got away with smoking in concert last summer as Glasgow's Hampden stadium isn't enclosed.

Although a cigarette has been a Stones' prop for years, the band aren't covered by new laws that allow smoking on stage "where the artistic integrity of a performance makes it appropriate for a person to smoke".

Pete Doherty smokes while performing at T in the Park in Glasgow
Pete Doherty at T in the Park - it's outdoors, so the ban doesn't apply
This exception applies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but not in Scotland, where a tribute show to Bill Hicks, the chain-smoking comic who died of cancer, has been forced to ditch the cigarettes for its Edinburgh Fringe run. Instead the actor playing Hicks jokes about the ban. But when Bill Hicks: Slight Return starts its West End run next month, producer James Seabright hopes that smoking will be allowed.

"In England it's up to the local council to decide whether smoking is allowed. It's a bit of a backward step in terms of artistic freedom but at least it's not a blanket ban like in Scotland.

"Last year we put on our Edinburgh Fringe publicity that Bill Hicks was returning 'in defiance of the smoking ban'. The day it was published, the council was on the phone to me. I had to point out that it was a joke."

Herbal cigarettes

Last August Mel Smith flouted Scotland's ban by smoking a cigar inside the Assembly Rooms during a photo call. He was playing Winston Churchill, who was partial to cigars, and the city council threatened to shut down the venue if he broke the law during the play's run.

Mel Smith as Churchill at 2006 Edinburgh Festival
Mel Smith smoked for a photo call at the Assembly Rooms
"It would have delighted Adolf Hitler," the actor said of the ban, but when the play opened - with council officials among the audience - he refrained from lighting up.

"He picked it up, waved it around, looked at the audience - and put it down again," says Louise Chantal, who produced the show.

Also at last year's festival, Red Shift Theatre Company performed Get Carter. Director Jonathan Holloway hoped to use herbal cigarettes in order to portray this bygone era.

But to no avail. Scotland's ban forbids any "lit substance" in an enclosed public space, and officials suggest using fake fags instead.

"It is particularly difficult to present some plays set in a 'gritty' social world without people smoking," Holloway says.

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"Smoking a cigarette was and is about ceremony - offering them around, using a match, producing a flashy lighter, pausing for effect while lighting up, gesticulating with the lighted fag, using it to point in a threatening manner. I'm afraid a joke shop tube out of which one blows talc doesn't cut the mustard."

Another show, The Unprotected, a verbatim piece of theatre about Liverpool prostitutes, replaced the endless cigarettes with endless cuppas in Edinburgh.

So when is smoking allowed for "artistic integrity"? It is at the local council's discretion. Actors light up in Hampstead Theatre's In The Club, a political sex farce set against the backdrop of Turkey joining the EU, and in Forgotten Voices at Riverside Studio, a play set in the 1970s "when everyone smoked," says Ms Chantal.

But the Haymarket, in the West End, has forced a rewrite of a crucial scene in The Last Confession, starring David Suchet, to prevent his co-star lighting up.


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