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The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2016 - 17
« on: February 11, 2017, 12:33:47 pm »
And if I went to the trouble of giving flowers to someone, I wouldn't be at all pleased if they passed them on to someone else.

I agree.  It seems most discourteous, though I suppose there might be some convention in operation for 'official' flowers.  Certainly if the flowers were from an ordinary punter it is rather rude to give them away so publicly.  Still, at least he didn't staple them to the walls!

I'm intending to go to this concert tonight - it says 'no tickets on the door' so I've booked, but I can't see them turning people away!  (You could always pretend to be a student and get in free.)

How did it go?  I pencilled that in my diary but I was in Manchester for the MMU students' matinee of David Copperfield and as, unusually, the production at the Royal Exchange was short enough for me to get away in time for the 2159 train, I stayed on for The House of Bernarda Alba

Theatre / The House of Bernarda Alba - Manchester Royal Exchange (Graeae)
« on: February 11, 2017, 12:22:51 pm »
Graeae has an uncompromising policy of incorporating such media as sign language, audio description and surtitles into the production as well as casting disabled actors for most (or all?) roles.  They also seem to have no problem sending themselves up – among the very few props on the almost bare stage was a table with TABLE stencilled on its surface.  I like their style and didn’t find the unusual aspects of the production – which sometimes included having a deaf actor’s lines repeated by another character – detracted from the drama.  I was certainly relieved, after the Young Vic’s Yerma, to find that this was pure Lorca* - and very well presented Lorca at that.  Kathryn Hunter is tremendous as the unbending matriarch barking out her orders and delivering her severe homilies on the way things have always been and must always stay.  There is a niggling sense that, in terms of stage presence, she is in a different league from the rest of the cast; but then, Bernarda is a woman apart, dominating her little world and, as La Poncia hints, steering clear of any society she can’t dominate; keeping her daughters in a domestic prison and even keeping her own mother in solitary confinement within that prison.  Interestingly the actor who, Hunter apart, most effectively puts her mark on the production is Alison Halstead as La Poncia – the housekeeper whose utterances often betray her as a sort of wannabe Bernarda Alba.  I should stress that the other performances are good, too; they just didn’t quite, for me, have the intensity of Hunter’s.  The Royal Exchange space was at its minimalist best – usually, at most, a few chairs and that table on a bare stage.  The music and sound effects were also quite unobtrusive - perhaps a (welcome) side effect of incorporating other elements in the production.

If last night was anything to go by the production is not getting the attendances it deserves.  The auditorium was by no means sparsely populated but there were quite a few empty seats.  That might, however, mean it's easy enough to follow my recommendation and catch this if you can. Runs until 25 Feb:

*I spotted few very serious deviations from the plot/script I know.  Occasionally you get some extra lines such as when Amelia (Philippa Cole) takes off her prosthetic leg (as a minor act of rebellion like Adela’s green dress?) or where Bernarda orders the maids to sign some lines.  The only thing that really jarred (and you’d need to know the play to spot this) was the very conspicuous absence of La Poncia’s story about giving her son money to go with a visiting prostitute.

Theatre / Hedda Gabler - Lyttelton Theatre
« on: February 08, 2017, 11:31:42 pm »
I avoid reading reviews before seeing a play and, despite seeing this late in the run I was pretty successful in avoiding detailed commentary, though inevitably the odd thing got by and, of course, director Ivo van Hove’s reputation went before him.  The first thing I have to say after seeing the production is that this is by no means a travesty along the lines of, say, Simon Stone’s Yerma.  Patrick Marber’s ‘version’ struck me as quite faithful – though there are probably a few minor cuts and possibly even a bit of rearrangement, but nothing radically divergent from Ibsen’s original. 

When I say the version is faithful I should stress I mean the dialogue is close to what I remember from other productions and from reading other translations.  Without buying Marber’s script (no thanks!) I have no way of knowing whether some of the stuff we see on the Lyttelton stage is a result of Marber’s interpretation of Ibsen’s directions or of van Hove’s directorial dictates.  I was disappointed, looking at van Hove’s rather bare stage, to note the absence of General Gabler’s portrait.  Perhaps this is because a highlight of the last production I saw was Sheridan Smith's Hedda standing in front of the portrait and seeming to take the place of her father.  But, as disappointments go, this was minor compared with what followed.  For some reason I had been almost expecting a pretentious, intellectualised version of this classic story; but what we got seemed, to me at least, to be characterised  by mere puerility.

Hedda Gabler is the story of an unhinged, over-privileged woman who plays a variant of Shag, Marry, Kill with the three male characters.  It’s a proposition that would, though I say it myself, make a good essay topic.  But I’d follow it with the traditional ‘discuss’ instruction and not ‘illustrate your answer by putting on a major public production’.  I’m afraid I tend to sigh when I read that directors like van Hove ‘shed light’ on classic texts.  I haven’t seen any of his other productions but with this Hedda Gabler he seems to me to have picked out a few themes that a reasonably bright 12 year old could have identified and concentrated on them at the cost of sucking the drama out of the piece and replacing it, essentially, with shouting.  Ruth Wilson manages to present Hedda as a half credible character, albeit quite barking.  Nobody else in the cast, with the possible exception of Kyle Soller as Tesman, succeeded in coming across as more than a caricature.  Rafe Spall, as Judge Brack, was a seedy rent-a-slimeball of the Alan Rickman school.  Sinead Matthews as Thea Elvsted sounded like a dime store Marilyn Monroe (no reflection on any of these actors, I must stress; I’m pretty sure they were all under orders).  Kate Duchene’s Aunt Juliana was out of PG Wodehouse via Miranda Hart.  Poor Eilat Lovborg (Chukwudi Iwuji) delivered half his lines as if they were Shakesperean blank verse (sometimes with a level of histrionics that would make Olivier seem naturalistic).  Accents were pick and mix – Soller and Matthews American, Spall, Duchene and Wilson very English and Eva Magyar as Berte Hungarian (I’m guessing – certainly thick East European) – perhaps to hint that the maid is an exploited immigrant.  And Berte in this production seems almost – for no reason I can fathom – to have some sort of telepathic rapport with her mistress; doing things like bringing on the doomed manuscript and the fatal pistol – both of which Hedda gets for herself in every other version I know.

The thing is, it’s not a profound revelation that Hedda Gabler is a bit deranged.  We don’t need to see her stapling flowers to the wall or switching from giggles to violent anger in a amateur psychologist’s representation of bipolar disorder.  The brooding menace of Judge Brack is very clear – and superbly ramped up by Ibsen.  What is gained by having him make it very explicit is not at all clear (indeed, in my view, a great deal is lost by this policy).  General Gabler’s sister is a pleasant, well-meaning if rather innocent lady and making her a sort of dumb version of Bertie Wooster's Aunt Dahlia is not illuminating.  And stopping the action every so often to spin a Joni Mitchell or Jeff Buckley record is, frankly, an atrocious disruption of any dramatic flow the production had left.

I could go on but I won’t.  I’ll just finish by saying that, Brian Friel’s ill-advised extra scene notwithstanding, Anna Mackminn’s Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic was, in my opinion, enormously better in every department.  However, that’s long gone.  If you want to see this one, it runs until 21 March.  It says sold out for most dates, but seats crop up frequently as individual performances draw near.

Theatre / Sex with Strangers - Hampstead Theatre
« on: February 08, 2017, 11:19:16 pm »
I don’t have much to say about this.  Most of you will know my style by now and will have your own responses to my recommendations.  This is just a quick note for the benefit of those who take them at face value.  Don’t waste your time with this play.  I left at the interval genuinely perplexed as to how this ever got as far as the professional stage.  For those who find the best policy is to do the exact opposite of what I recommend, Sex with Strangers continues until 4 March:

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2016 - 17
« on: February 02, 2017, 11:21:56 pm »
Having tried it out on the good folk of Birmingham last night Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO brought a programme of c20 Russian music back to the Philharmonic Hall this evening.  The hall was almost full and deserves to be full again for tomorrow lunchtime’s repeat (though advance sales for that don’t look good so far).  Stravinsky’s  ballet Jeu de Cartes opened the evening and very sprightly it was, too.  Then followed the later of Rachmaninov’s rarely played Piano Concertos, No 4, with Daniil Trifonov at the keyboard.  It was a very assured performance for a young pianist – though having one of the finest interpreters of Russian repertoire on the podium won’t have hindered him any.  After the interval there was Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony which was given a rip roaring, almost flawless, performance.  It was, therefore, not a ‘game of two halves’ as both halves were very fine; but it was a concert of two encores.  On his fourth return to the auditorium Trifonov gave us, unless the hall staff misinformed me, Medtner’s Fairy Tale op 26 no 3; and I was just putting on my coat (assuming that, as pianist Ian Buckle had left the stage, it was all over) when I saw Petrenko getting back on the podium.  We got something from Romeo and Juliet.  I suppose I could skim through my recording to tell you exactly what it was, but I’m ready for bed and I want to post this in case anyone is wavering about going tomorrow lunchtime.  I can tell you it wasn’t Dance of the Knights but I don’t really know the other bits by name!

Catch it if you can.

News and Current Affairs / John Hurt (1940-2017)
« on: January 28, 2017, 10:03:38 pm »
I was saddened to hear of the death of John Hurt this morning.  I had really been looking forward to seeing his Billy Rice last year and was disappointed to hear he had to pull out on doctor’s instructions.  I had rather hoped that the rest might have been the opportunity to recover as I read his pancreatic cancer was in respite.  Sadly, it was not to be.  Although I never saw him on stage and have managed to miss the things for which he is most famous – Alien, Dr Who, Harry Potter – it’s a tribute to his versatility that he still leaves a wealth of memories: The Naked Civil Servant, I, Claudius, The Elephant Man, Scandal, Nineteen Eighty-Four, White Mischief – to name just the ones that spring to mind.


Theatre / Roundelay - Laurence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield (Dick&Lottie)
« on: January 28, 2017, 10:00:14 pm »
This, according to Wikipedia, is Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play and his trademark ingenuity is in evidence throughout.  Its five acts (or, if you prefer, five sketches) are played in the order selected by a draw before each performance.  As today’s venue had unallocated seating there were plenty of audience members lining up outside the entrance and people were chosen at random to pull the balls out of the bag (or sack, as they called it.  Balls..sack…geddit!?).  For the record, today’s order was:  The Judge, The Agent, The Novelist, The Star, The Politician.  It’s so redolent of The Blue Room that it can’t, in my opinion, be coincidence.  But where David Hare’s play (and its sources, Reigen/La Ronde) takes the form of a linear ‘daisy chain’, Roundelay is very much dependent on the order in which it is played.  To take just one example; we had to wait until after the interval to find out what had happened to the Judge’s wife - which is something another audience might know within the first ten minutes.  It’s fascinating to watch even if there’s a slight feeling of form submerging content.  Of course, Ayckbourn’s dark humour is very much in evidence and I couldn’t help wondering how some of it would go down with some audiences.  The idea of an MP being delighted to discover that the visitor he thinks is a call girl is only 16 years old might not be seen in some quarters as a fit subject for humour*  For me, and a lot of others, the most hilarious section was The Agent.  More than any of the others, this could have been a stand alone one act play – and the performances of John Cotgrave and Hannah Head were tremendous.  I should stress that the rest of the cast also did very well – but, as is very often the case, some individuals stand out even in a high quality cast.  Cotgrave even doubled as a completely different kind of character in The Politician.

Roundelay is now finished in Huddersfield but tours to Wimbledon next month.  Be careful, though: there is a completely different play called Roundelay (also related to Reigen) on at Southwark Playhouse around the same time.  I wouldn’t want to put you off that – but the one I’m actually recommending is this one:

*SPOILER ALERT  In The politician, the MP is keen to send the young woman (who is actually not a call girl but a rather pushy youngster who thinks she’s attending a theatrical audition) away as he has an imminent meeting with his wife.  When he discovers she’s under 17 his, ahem, interest is suddenly aroused.  I’d have been a relative youngster in today’s audience: and it was like going back to a different era to hear people chortling at the man’s sudden enthusiasm – and his apparent belief that The Seagull is an erotic practice.[/sub]

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2016 - 17
« on: January 27, 2017, 12:03:05 pm »
I’m rather glad I decided to go to last night's concert despite feeling a bit under the weather.  It was the type of programme that really appeals to me: a couple of unfamiliar pieces to check out, with an old favourite in reserve in case the novelties disappoint.  As it happened, the unfamiliar didn’t disappoint at all.  The positioning of the interval was changed from the original listing.  This might have been to balance the two halves of the concert but it seemed a bit mean to bring the oboe soloist, Francois Leleux, back for the 11 minutes of Hummel’s Adagio, Theme and Variations.  Originally, this piece was supposed to follow the UK Premiere of Albert Schnelzer’s  Oboe Concerto: The Enchanter.  I can see how it might have been thought discourteous to have the premiere’s applause abruptly curtailed and followed by a short piece for the same soloist.  It would have done neither piece any favours – especially as Mr Schnelzer seemed to have got lost in the bowels of the Philharmonic Hall and didn’t emerge to take a bow for quite a long time!  When we got to hear the Hummel piece it became clear that putting this thrilling virtuoso effort before the premiere wouldn’t have been ideal either.  Schnelzer’s concerto was, as the subtitle suggests, a charming piece with a lot to recommend it; and Leleux’s performance was superb in both but, after the pyrotechnic display in the Hummel, the concerto might have come across as rather tame by comparison.  Moving the interval was, it seems, a good decision.  The concerto surely has a place in the oboe soloist’s repertoire – which, as far as I know, is not hugely extensive.  The soloist seems occupied for every one of the 23 minutes but there is a fair bit of support from the orchestral woodwind as well as backing from the strings and occasional bouts of turbulence from the brass and percussion. 

The guest conductor, Jaime Martin, gave a good account of himself and appeared to get on well with the RLPO.  Demonstrative without being histrionic, he brought out the drama and power of the opening Leonore 3 and the closing Sibelius 5 as well as the intricacies of the two oboe pieces.  It was his second visit to Liverpool and I’m sure he’ll be welcome again.   There were a few gaps in the audience last night, but attendance was fairly decent.  Maybe next time he’ll get a full house.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2016 - 17
« on: January 20, 2017, 11:09:56 am »
Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO put on another fine concert yesterday evening.  Those who booked for the Sunday ‘repeat’ won’t get Emily Howard’s Torus – which I was very happy to hear a second time, though, unusually, I thought it sounded better in the, ahem, particular acoustic of the RAH.  Still, it was a fine performance of a piece that, in my estimation, stands a good chance of getting further outings. 

Sunday’s audience will still get the rare opportunity of hearing the Schubert/Liszt Wanderer Fantasy performed with aplomb (but perhaps with too little passion?) by Teo Gheorghiu and, if they’re lucky, an encore – we got a Schubert Impromptu* – and, after the interval, another of Petrenko’s masterly interpretations of a Shostakovich symphony.  This time it’s number 12 and, a slight mishap in the brass during the 2nd movement notwithstanding, the performance was gripping.  I particularly liked a flighty passage in the first movement for two bassoons – which was a feature I’d never really noticed before; but, additionally, there was all the angst and anger of a composer more or less compelled to celebrate ‘The Year 1917’ under the baton of a conductor who has very a clear and convincing view of how the music works.  And with the very fine Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes replacing Torus, it can’t be said the Sunday audience will be short-changed.  I’m almost tempted to go again myself.

*op 90 No 3, since you ask (I did!)

Theatre / Wild Honey - Hampstead Theatre
« on: January 19, 2017, 04:30:04 pm »
Just a quick, fairly positive, mention of this as there are only three or four performances left and I haven’t a lot of time at the moment to do a lengthier write up.

Wild Honey is Michael Frayn’s adaptation of Platonov and follows shortly after David Hare’s adaptation (itself called Platonov but, as far as I can gather, an adaptation nonetheless) at the NT.  A while after I saw Hare’s play I got round to reading Ronald Hingley’s translation in a collection of 12 Chekhov plays.  There are some quite significant differences between the versions.  To mention a few peculiarities of the Frayn version: he misses out at least one character (Glagolyev’s son Cyril); he makes Osip a rather more sympathetic character (omitting the scene in which he accepts payment to rough up Platonov and presenting his attack on the central character almost as an act of chivalry); and he doesn’t have Sofya (who, for some reason, seems to be called Sonya in the Hingley version) kill Platonov.  Compared with the NT production both Sasha (Mrs P) and Maria are rather less happy (although Sasha’s devotion to her errant husband is still obvious).  One thing the two productions have in common, though, is a glorious Anna Petrovna.  I made my admiration of Nina Sosanya’s performance very clear last year and I must say Justine Mitchell’s reading was (almost) equally attractive.  I suspect this is a peach of a role for a talented actress.  I wasn’t convinced by Geoffrey Streatfield’s Platonov but that might be part of the enigma ie I’m supposed to be nonplussed by the fact that this ostensibly pathetic man would be so attractive to women.  They certainly didn’t present him as a man whose magnetic good looks would overcome his rather flaky character.  I suppose that, like Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman, it is his frankness combined with his very obvious weakness that brings out the maternal in some women.

The set is simple and, though the various walls and partitions probably prevent anyone from getting a perfect view, they’re pretty flimsy and transparent, so the obstruction is seldom serious.

Well worth seeing and though it has been popular (possibly because the production was the last on which the late Howard Davies worked) there seem still to be a few places left for all remaining performances.

Theatre / Re: An Inspector Calls - Playhouse, London
« on: January 08, 2017, 10:58:30 pm »
I saw it back in, ooh, actually, not sure, 2002-ish (though not with Kenneth Cranham - have a feeling it was the guy who played Bishop Brennan

Jim Norton?  Bet that was good.  He crops up on radio quite a lot and his delivery is superb.

struggled to hear the dialogue before they opened up the front of the on-stage house.

Thanks Jim.  I was rather worried that it was just me - which is why I didn't mention it.

Theatre / An Inspector Calls - Playhouse, London
« on: January 08, 2017, 10:21:42 pm »
I hadn’t seen the famous Stephen Daldry production of J B Priestley’s superb allegory before; so it was top of my list for my latest trip (largely because I thought it was my last chance but it seems the run has now been extended to late March).  I find it hard to believe this play was regarded as a wheezy old warhorse before Daldry breathed new life into it.  From reading and the odd minor production I’d always thought of it as a true classic and I still can’t see the necessity for the extra trappings of this ‘expressionist’ version; but the location of the Birlings in an oversized doll’s house does no harm given that there is no discernible messing about with Priestley’s text. And the co-existence of (at least) three points in history is not just a (unsubtle?) reminder that the play’s message is timeless but is also of a piece with the playwright’s well known penchant for toying with timescales.  The miniature house is raised on stilts and the action therein is clearly in the play’s designated year of 1912; but the stage below hosts a sort of mute chorus of WW2 figures – presumably representing the mid-1940s origins of the script – and below that is the present day audience at which the message is aimed. 

I wasn’t hugely taken with the way ‘Inspector Goole’ was portrayed.  Priestley already gives us a character who is more prosecuting counsel than copper but I imagine him as a cool, relentless type and Liam Brennan, for my money, gets far too angry too often in the role.  I feel that one of the intentions of the author was to get his audience angry at the unfairness of capitalist society – and letting the central character get angry on their behalf conflicts with that intention in my view.  That said, it’s almost certainly not Brennan’s fault as I expect he was under orders.  Does anyone remember how, say, Kenneth Cranham approached the role in earlier runs of this production?  I don’t suppose I was particularly badly served by the fact that Arthur and Sybil Birling were both played by understudies.  Perhaps Geoffrey Towers fluffed a line but he was otherwise very convincing and I don’t imagine Clive Francis would have been a lot better; and I certainly don’t see how Barbara Marten could have been more magnificently arrogant than Beth Tuckey as Sybil.  Matthew Douglas handled the tricky role of Gerald Croft (whose reaction to Goole’s revelations is very complex as he, more than anyone, seems genuinely chastened until he sees a chance of getting off the hook) very well.  I thought Hamish Riddle’s Eric was interesting though, in the end, he was just a bit too soppy (as opposed to sottish) for my liking.  As his sister, Sheila, Carmella Corbett gave a good portrayal of a person visibly reassessing the way she views the world as the play goes on.   Eric and Sheila are clearly representations of Priestley’s touching faith in the younger generation and, as such, are in danger of seeming a bit idealised; but they work if they are well portrayed.

I thought the music was rather too ponderous at times but, like the staging, it did no real harm.  The play is still a powerful reminder of the danger of abdicating social responsibilities.  Well worth seeing even if I found the Playhouse’s aggressive promotion of in-seat refreshments a big negative – the noise of rustling wrappers, crackling plastic cups, chomping and slurping was more prevalent than usual.  £20 Day seats shouldn’t be too hard to get.  They are usually in the back of the stalls but if, like me, you’re going on your own it’s worth mentioning the fact.  They found me an odd seat much nearer the front for the same price – presumably because single seats on their own are much harder to shift at full price.

Theatre / Re: Once in a Lifetime - Young Vic
« on: January 08, 2017, 10:12:00 pm »
I once got roped into an am-dram production, 13 years ago (can't remember which character, other than I was looking in a newspaper for horse racing results after having bet on a horse called Caliente).

I think this was a minor character, Jim; one of the stagehands or authors milling about at Glogauer Studios.  I remember the scene, though I couldn't swear to the name of the horse!

Theatre / Once in a Lifetime - Young Vic
« on: January 08, 2017, 12:46:23 pm »
I don’t really know what to recommend here.  If you go determined to enjoy an undemanding evening’s entertainment, you’ll probably succeed.  On the other hand, Moss Hart and George Kaufman’s 1930 play – adapted but not, thankfully, updated by Hart’s son Christopher – struck me as not being particularly good.  And I didn’t see many signs of that other staple reason for revival: topical relevance.  The background is promising.  In a depressed economy workers find themselves selling up and crossing a continent in search of a new start while those working the levers of industry grasp at anything, no matter how ludicrous, in an attempt to breathe new life into a sagging business.  But the messages for today just didn’t hit me in the same way as, say, The Entertainer or An Inspector Calls (which I saw the next day – report follows).  The business in question is the movie industry and the setting is around a time of fundamental change – not just the impact of talking pictures but also the tail end of the US industry’s relocation from New York to Hollywood.

The piece is awash with stock characters.  Claudie Blakley is May Daniels, the hard as nails young trouper, Lucy Cohu is the shameless, conniving critic Helen Hobart and John Marquez is George Lewis, the dull quasi-simpleton whose utterances are taken as wisdom by the studio boss and who gets the ditsy girl (Susan Walker played by Lizzie Connolly).  All three performances are fine but, imo, all three actors are crying out for better material (indeed I’ve seen all three in better plays).  Some of the character actors, too, have had more stretching assignments: for example, I’ve seen Buffy Davis in Hedda Gabler and The Hairy Ape as well as heard her as Jolene when I used to listen to The Archers.

The reason I chose this piece, though (apart from the fact that my train didn’t get in until after five and this was the best option for advance booking at a reasonable price) was the casting of Harry Enfield as Glogauer the studio boss.  I was under the impression that Enfield had given up the part of Dermot in Men Behaving Badly because he had come to the conclusion that he wasn’t really an actor.  He might well have been right; in which case he chose a very good role for his theatre debut because Glogauer (at least as envisaged by director Richard Jones) is essentially Enfield’s sketch character Ronald – in his work environment as opposed to on holiday with his wife Pammie.  Enfield might turn out, in the autumn of his career, to be a fine comic actor; but there was no real evidence of it, or any real need for it, in this production.

The staging is clever (or, more likely, I’m easily fooled) with a revolving stage containing a large variety of sets, as befits, I suppose, the cinematic theme.  The sets are simple enough – sometimes just painted scenery – but the way they get so many of them in is impressive. 

It’s selling quite well but there are tickets still available.  An interesting innovation is the £10 ‘Lucky Dip’ .  You buy a ticket for £10 then turn up half an hour before curtain when your seat will be allocated.  If you’re early and lucky you might get a top seat; if you’re very unlucky you’ll get a standing place.  I got a good seat (slightly to one side but still middle-front stalls and with a clear view); and I was shown where the standing places are and they’re pretty decent – behind the stalls and also with a clear view.  Bearing in mind that the cheapest seat you can reserve is £10 I’d recommend taking pot luck unless you really have a problem with standing and can’t risk it.

Only a week left if you want to give it a go:

The Coffee Bar / Re: The Waffle Thread
« on: December 27, 2016, 11:09:13 pm »
In retrospect, perhaps one needs to have several unsuccessful attempts before one can finally give it up entirely. And on that given day I simply stopped and never looked back. 

That strikes a chord.  Learning from past failures can be very useful.  While I’d agree with Selva that it does no good to obsess about the difficulties of giving up, I’m convinced that I finally stopped (in 1993) by adopting a healthy respect for the difficulties of withdrawal.  It was basically an intellectual process by which I accepted that severe discomfort was in store but that it was also very obviously possible to get past it.  I consciously refused to try and make it easy as I had a strong intuition that, say, substitution – whether in the form of alternative forms of nicotine or compensatory measures such as overeating – would do little more than spin out the process and increase the chances of relapse.

The financial incentive to give up is now even stronger now that people seem to be paying in excess of £6 for a packet of 20

I’m not sure about that.  Almost everybody I know is paying less in real terms than I was 20-odd years ago as it’s just so easy to get a steady supply without paying UK excise duty.  Even without breaking the law, it’s possible to get dozens of cartons tax paid from, say, Belgium or Slovakia if you or a relative travel frequently.  Brexit is almost certain to put the kibosh on that as allowances will fall to the non-EC limit of 200 ciggies or 250g of hand rolling tobacco.  But for now, smoking is still quite inexpensive for a lot of people.

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