The quality of mercy is nicotine stained

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The Independent Online

A most unusual law case is going on in London at the moment which may change the course of theatre history entirely, depending on the outcome. An actor is suing a theatre management because he was required to smoke for a recent part, and he now cannot give up. He is therefore suing on health and financial grounds.

I would like to bring you an extract from the moment when the actor, Mr Ivan Grellow, takes the stand.

Counsel: Your name is Ivan Grellow?

Grellow: That is my acting name, yes.

Counsel: Then what is your real name?

Grellow: It is Ivan M Grellow.

Counsel: So your acting and your real name are the same?

Grellow: No. In real life I have a middle initial M I do not use this on stage.

Counsel: Is it not rather strange to have a middle initial which comes and goes?

Grellow: I do not think so. What about Richard E Grant?

Counsel: What about him?

Grellow: He acts under the name of Richard E Grant. But nobody calls him that. You would not get people at parties going up to him and saying, "Hello, Richard E..."

Counsel: Except perhaps in Yorkshire.

Grellow: Pardon?

Counsel: People say "Eeee" all the time in Yorkshire. "Eeee, it's raining." That sort of thing.

Grellow: Then they might approach him and say, "Eee, Richard". But they wouldn't say "Richard eeee Grant...", would they?

Judge: Gentlemen, gentlemen - might I inquire what on earth all this childish rigmarole is about?

Counsel: Certainly, m'Lud. I am attempting to disconcert and fluster the plaintiff, and he is counter-attacking.

Judge: Then may I suggest that you cut to the chase.

Counsel: The chase, m'Lud?

Judge: Yes. It is a modish expression meaning, "Get down to business."

Counsel: Certainly, m'Lud. Now, Mr Grellow, you were playing the part of Stanley Kowalski in the Tennessee Williams play, Street Car Named Desire, at the Grenville Theatre in the West End last year, where you were required to smoke seven cigarettes in the play, and you now complain that you are addicted to smoking?

Grellow: Yes. Fourteen on some days.

Counsel: You were required to smoke twice the amount on some days?

Grellow: When there was a matinee as well. I had given up smoking 10 years before, after a long struggle, so it was quite fun for a while to have an excuse to smoke again, but gradually I found I was enjoying it, and couldn't give up. I started looking forward to the evening performance to have another smoke. Then I started smoking during the day...

Counsel: Just a moment, Mr Grellow, just a moment. Would it not have been possible to smoke herbal cigarettes or something harmless like that?

Grellow: I tried that. But they stank too much.

Counsel: How do you know?

Grellow: My fellow actors told me so. They said it stank out the rehearsal room. Get back to proper cigarettes, they said.

Counsel: Tell me, Mr Grellow, have you ever acted in Shakespeare?

Grellow: Often.

Counsel: You were, therefore, forced to speak blank verse?

Grellow: Of course.

Counsel: Did you find yourself becoming addicted to that?

Grellow: I am sorry?

Counsel: When, night by night, thou wast obliged to speak/ The mighty lines that William Shakespeare wrote,/ Wast not affected by the rolling ride?/ Didst thou not imitate the Bard's great rhythms,/ Rising and falling as the iambs came?

Grellow: No, not at all. I never spoke like that.

Counsel: And yet that last sentence you uttered was a perfect iambic pentameter!

More of this fascinating case tomorrow, I hope.