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The Last Laugh by Richard Harris – Theatre at the Tabard

The Last Laugh by Richard Harris is a classically British satirical reflection on the nature of comedy. This new production grasps the fundamental, surface-level elements of Harris’ writing, but leaves a little on the table in terms of a more nuanced exploration of comedy.

The Last Laugh. Photographer Andreas Grieger.
The Last Laugh. Photographer Andreas Grieger.

The play is very simple in premise and plot, a playwright has to get the approval of the censorship office to have his play put on. The Writer (Matt Wake) is young, sprightly and thinks he knows his stuff about comedy, while The Censor (David Tarkenter) is stony-faced and resolutely unamused. Although initially at odds with each other, the two become begrudgingly fond of each other and learn a great deal from each other.

The writing is slick, it is sharp, vigorously self-aware and ridicules itself mercilessly. Tarkenter and Wake have terrific comedic chemistry and timing; Harris’ delicious comedic writing reverberates around the theatre, prodding us all into laughter. The pure deadpan of The Censor riffs beautifully on the naïve innocence of The Playwright. And this is where the director, Nick Bromley, has placed most of the focus of the play.

I think this is a shame. Harris’s writing is undoubtedly funny, but in this he is examining the very nature of comedy, questioning how we write comedy and what constitutes humour. Harris is asking who decides what is funny, how we know when something is funny and whether anything can be universally amusing. But this is somewhat lost in Bromley’s production. It establishes its raison d’etre very quickly and then does that over and over again. Inevitably it somewhat slumps after punchy openings to the acts, which is a shame given Harris’ rich dialogue. It might sound like I am calling it a one-trick-pony, and I am to an extent, but it executes that one trick very well, with flair and polished talent.

So, it’s very funny, I had a great time watching this and laughed a lot. Perhaps they could have taken some of the more philosophical and existential questions further, but not all was lost. It ticks a lot of boxes, and the actors’ comedic abilities cannot be questioned.

4 stars

Review by Charlie Froy

A beleaguered comedy writer meets a stubborn government censor with no sense of humour in repeated attempts to gain approval for his new play. As the writer jumps through the censor’s hoops, a new play emerges while the two very different men come to understand one another and build an unlikely bond.

Set in a dystopian state with the war outside creeping ever closer, this witty play explores what comedy is and why it is so important to laugh.

The Last Laugh is by Richard Harris (Stepping Out, A Touch of Frost) adapted from an original play by Japanese writer Kōki Mitani. It premièred in 2007 on a national tour with Martin Freeman and Roger Lloyd Pack in the lead roles.

Theatre at the Tabard, 2 Bath Road, Chiswick, London W4 1LW
9 November – 3 December 2022
Box Office: 020 8995 6035

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