The Last Laugh - Richmond Theatre (Review)
Review by David Munro
ANYONE venturing to Richmond thinking they are seeing a dramatisation of FW Murnau’s famous silent film are in for a shock. In total contrast to the gloomy German silent film this is a comedy by Richard Harris adapted from a Japanese play.
It’s a two-hander featuring Roger Lloyd Pack (hot from his stint as Dame at The Barbican) and Martin Freeman (the love-sick Tim from The Office).
The premise is that a comedy writer (Freeman) has to seek approval for his new play from an army officer appointed by the Government as a censor (Lloyd Pack).
Neither are given names so that in a sense one could say they represented the fight for freedom of speech against Government controls.
However, this is not how the author sees it for as the play progresses there develops a strange affinity between the bigoted censor and the free-wheeling author; the censor seeking to add his input to the play and the author understanding the restraints that are required on his work.
It’s a strange play, very funny at times but at the same time there’s an underlying sadness which cannot really be laughed off.
The army officer has to come to terms with the fact that due to an injury he cannot pursue the career he was brought up to; the writer having to accept that life is not just a joke but has its harsh responsibilities and, it is implied, turns out his best work as a result.
The scenes where they work together to produce a play which, it is apparent, can never be produced but which to them is some farcical game, give both actors full rein to exercise their comic talents, which they seize with both hands.
Roger Lloyd Pack never lets you forget he is a soldier, yet at the same time he shows the relish of a man who, for the first time in his life, has unbent and is enjoying it.
Martin Freeman plays along with this and has a ball acting out the scenes of the ridiculous play they are concocting between them and at the same time deflating Pack’s pomposity.
It’s a marvellous tour-de-force by both actors and for that reason it is worth seeing even if, like me, you find the play itself somewhat unsettling.
It’s as if someone had decided to translate The Prisoner into a farce without realising that confrontation of dictatorial authority is not really very funny.
It’s beautifully directed by Bob Tomson who has managed to keep the action controlled so that it never descends into the realms of unbelievability.
As to who has the last laugh, you will have to decide for yourself although I feel the bitter-sweet ending makes it quite clear. An interesting, well acted play which leaves you wondering is, for me, always worth the price of admission and this is certainly one of those.
The Last Laugh by Richard Harris, adapted from an original play by Koki Mitani.
Directed by Bob Tomson.
Designer – Michael Pavelka.
Lighting – Mark Henderson.
Composer – Brian Spence.
CAST: Martin Freeman; Roger Lloyd Pack.
Presented by Bill Kenwright in association with Parco company limited Tokyo.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Mon, Febaury 19 – Sat, Feb 24, 2007.
Evenings: 7.45pm/Matinees Wed & Sat: 2.30pm.
Box Office: 0870 060 6651