EDINBURGH FESTIVAL '98: THEATRE: Mr Nice goes up in smoke

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The Independent Culture
WHEN TWO members of the audience walked on stage to borrow Howard Marks's bong and smoke some marijuana with it, the audience didn't applaud. In fact nobody seemed to notice. The end-of-evening Q&A session simply continued as if nothing was happening.

The show itself is a combination of anecdotes and readings from Marks's autobiography, Mr Nice. We are guided through the professional life of one of the world's biggest-ever dope dealers, from his first, small deal in an Irish village to multi-million-dollar exchanges across the globe. As Marks reveals the details of his dealings, and you discover how much money he made and how good a life he led, you sit and listen, almost dispassionately. There is no jealousy, no envy. Instead you marvel at his ability to make the most of the hand he's dealt, whatever the circumstances.

When caught red-handed for importing five tons of hashish into Scotland in the early Eighties, Marks paid a Mexican government official $500,000 to testify at his trial. "He came along and told the court he couldn't reveal any specific government details, such as the identity of Mexican agents. There must have been a couple of smokers sitting on the jury, because I walked free." According to Mr Nice, "this is my greatest achievement. I've never even been to Mexico, for God's sake!" For Marks, you feel, this was all just a game.

Alex Hayes