Theatre at the Tabard (venue)
16 November 2022 (released)
29 November 2022
Adapted from an original play by Japanese writer Kōki Mitani, The Last Laugh explores what comedy is and whether it’s a luxury or a necessity.
Set in a dystopian state with an escalating war being waged outside, this heartwarming story revolves around the unlikely friendship between a beleaguered comedy writer, played by Matt Wake, and a stubborn government censor, performed by David Tarkenter.
We are presented with the Censor’s office - a carefully crafted realistic set that remains throughout the play. The Playwright sits apprehensively, waiting to discuss why his play has been rejected and how he can get the required approval to take his show to market.
Through a cleverly woven script, the two discuss the necessity of humour, whilst navigating their polar opposite views. The contrast between the characters' positions, life experiences and ages made for a fascinating discussion about comedy and the performing arts. The Playwrite makes repeated attempts to gain approval for his new play, altering the script to appease the Censor - and the two eventually end up on the same side (sort of).
Warai no Daigaku (the original by Koki Mitani) was first adapted into the Last Laugh by Richard Harris in 2007, premiering with Martin Freeman and Roger Lloyd Pack in the lead roles. Harris’ adaptation catered to a British audience, encompassing the unique British sense of humour with clever wordplay and classic wit. Nick Bromley, the Director of this rendition, stayed true to Harris’ adaptation which had the audience laughing out loud.
One of my favourite things about this play was the inception that occurred when the characters were discussing the script they were writing within the play - a comedic rendition of Romeo & Juliet. At one point the script became a play within a play within a play. This gave the Director a unique freedom to explore theatrical techniques, whilst the actors discussed, demonstrated and analysed them, without breaking the fourth wall, which was extremely fun and interesting to observe.
Another highlight for me was the references to great comedies of the past and theatre cliches. The audience clearly had a high density of thespians as they were in hysterics at all of the jokes that could have very easily gone over layman’s heads. Despite the ‘if you know, you know’ type references, the show was rather insightful of the theatre industry. If you have a background in the arts, or friends that do, you'll really love and relate to this play. Equally, if you’ve never been to the theatre before, this will be a light-hearted introduction to the technicalities involved in putting on a performance and appeasing an audience.
Both Wake and Tarkenter had fantastic energy and stage presence - I started off a little apprehensive, but quickly warmed to the characters. The actors didn’t take themselves too seriously and had commendable undertones of self-depreciation which made them extremely likeable. In terms of performance, the highlights for me were the shaving gag, the side effects of the potion, the green paint joke, and the physical theatre around the whistle - all for which the actors demonstrated perfect comedy timing.
In summary, I thought The Last Laugh was fun, sincere and witty. Matt Wake and David Tarkenter complimented each other on stage and demonstrated a stellar performance. The theatre at The Tabard was the perfect location to host this show. The intimate space had me immersed in the script, and the sense of community was really refreshing. What appears to be a simple story on the surface (a desperate playwright seeking the approval of his show from a bitter Censor), turns out to be a philosophical discussion on the use of laughter as a coping mechanism and the role of art within. Through a unique deep-dive into comedy, theatre and freedom of speech, you’re forced to reflect on the diversity of humour - and despite being set in a dystopian state, many of the themes ring true with society. This show provided a clever demonstration of the qualities, quirks, trials and tribulations of showbiz, never shying away from being a classic comedy by design. A great evening out for all generations, but especially if classic British humour, like The Two Ronnies, is your cup of tea.
Photo credit: Andreas Grieger