Friday, February 23, 2007

‘The Last Laugh’ adapted by Richard Harris from a play by Koki Mitani

23 February 2007

I’ve always liked the idea of setting a story in a non-specific location and time without the baggage of current local cultural references – giving it a universality and avoiding the danger of it quickly becoming dated. In practice, however, I have to admit that this approach can make the resulting play, novel etc. feel a bit flat and lifeless. We were at Milton Keynes Theatre last Friday to see ‘The Last Laugh’, a two-hander with Martin Freeman and Roger Lloyd Pack adapted by Richard Harris from a play by Koki Mitani. In an undetermined country during an unspecified war a writer is trying to persuade the military censor to approve his new comedy for performance. The censor is preoccupied with the seriousness of war and cannot understand what role comedy could possibly play at such a time. This sets the scene for a dissection of what comedy is, how it works and why it is important – particularly during such difficult times. There are some lovely set-ups where the two protagonists are discussing an aspect of comedy while inadvertently simultaneously demonstrating it. (I particularly liked the censor’s incredulity at the comedy of catch-phrases: “So you are telling me that people find it funny when a character keeps repeating the same phrase for no apparent reason? I don’t believe it! I do not believe it!”.) But this is essentially a serious play about comedy and I think it suffered a little from the expectations created by its title, cast and venue. The sombre, poignant nature of the story seemed to surprise many in the audience and some of the subtle, clever comic moments fell a bit flat. I wonder whether it would have worked more effectively in a smaller theatre with less well-known actors – or whether the neutrality of the story’s setting made it less accessible than it might have been. Nevertheless it was a thoughtful and interesting work.

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