I was at a play last night in which the fact that a character smokes cigars is important to the characterisation, if not essential to the plot. Now, since July 2007 in England it has been illegal to smoke in a public place, but it turns out that there’s clause in the Act which allows a performer to smoke where the artistic integrity of a performance makes it appropriate.

And it turns out that in my borough, the local council requires that all theatres to notify them if smoking is to occur in a performance – and fill in an Exemption Form to demonstrate that alternatives have been considered before reaching the artistic decision that it is necessary to have a character smoke during the performance. I haven’t had the heart to ring the Council to ask which officer has the obligation to scrutinise the form for its artistic credibility, the criteria they apply to assess it, or whether they have so far declined an Exemption request. The Lord Chamberlain (until the mid-60s) use to check scripts for content, and censor them. Now we vet them for public health compliance.

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