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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 May 2007, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Smoking ban has thespian impact
Robert Webb as Robin in the Smoking Room
The smoking ban has posed a conundrum for theatre producers
Northern Ireland's smoking ban has had an unexpected impact on a Belfast production of a classic play.

The Lyric Theatre has asked playwright Brian Friel to redo stage directions for two scenes in Dancing at Lughnasa, when a cigarette is smoked on stage.

The play, which centres on five sisters living in remote Donegal in the 30s, includes two scenes where one of the sisters, Maggie, smokes a cigarette.

In the 30s, women smoking had a certain frisson of liberation and big city cosmopolitanism so producers felt these scenes were an integral part of the play.

In the Republic of Ireland, where a smoking ban has been in force for two years now, the use of herbal cigarettes, which do not contain nicotine, is permitted.


However, producers said the Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order takes a stricter line with the words "smoking any other substance" banning any lighting up on stage.

Director Mick Gordon experimented with a magician's cigarette and producers hoped for an amendment to the Order, which would exempt performers as is the case in the proposed legislation for the smoking ban in England.

However, since a formal amendment by the Northern Ireland Assembly would take some time - and since the play begins on 1 June - they asked the author for advice.

Mr Friel had already come across a related problem in a recent production of another of his plays - Faith Healer - in Newhaven, USA, where a prolonged smoking scene saw a partial audience walk-out.

He has now sent the producers in Belfast a revised set of stage instructions for the two scenes.

The producers would not comment on the exact changes except to say that a packet of cigarettes still features in the list of props and the theatre will comply with the letter of the law.

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