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The Last Laugh

by on 17 November 2022

Stamp of Approval

The Last Laugh

by Richard Harris, adapted from Warai no Daigaku by Koki Mitani

Theatre at the Tabard at The Tabard Theatre, Chiswick until 3rd December

Review by Gill Martin

A sparky young idealistic writer of comedy crosses swords with a crusty, humourless censor in his bid to gain state approval for his play.  This hilarious clash of cultures played out in The Last Laugh is an auspicious first in-house production in the relaunch season of the Theatre at the Tabard, Chiswick.

With a laugh wrung from almost every line by the rugged old soldier-turned-censor, played by David Tarkenter, and the fresh-faced writer, Matt Wake, this moving satire explores the battle of freedom of expression versus censorship.

The Writer must jump through a maze of hoops set by a censor mystified by the very idea culture, theatre, humour.   The chisel-featured veteran has been a soldier since fourteen, too busy fighting wars to ever visit a theatre.  ‘Have you always worked in the theatre, or have you done anything useful?’ he asks the Writer in genuine bemusement.

The comedy, smartly directed by Nick Bromley, is played out against a stark set of a battleship grey office, with nothing but utilitarian furniture that echoes a Soviet-style regime.  It oozes menace.  The Censor would rather be embroiled in the battle raging outside his sunny window, but a war wound confines him to paper-pushing desk duties, with the stamp of rejection or approval his only weapon.

And the Writer, desperate for his comedy to open before his call-up papers send him into the infantry, must make ridiculous amendments that give birth to a very different play.

Despite the dystopian backdrop the two very different men grow to understand each other and build an unlikely bond.

The two actors are very different too in terms of age and experience.   Tarkenter has been a professional actor for over thirty years, with the National Theatre, Globe and Old Vic under his theatrical belt, as well as working in film, TV and radio.   Wake is fresh from drama school, graduating only last year.   But he’s already notched up success.  He recently co-wrote and appeared in a play shortlisted as a finalist for London Pub Theatres’ Standing Ovation Awards for comedy.   Watch out for this assured half of The Last Laugh.

It’s a witty, intelligent play that explores the art of comedy and why it’s so important to laugh.  A full eighty-seater house certainly laughed.  They laughed a lot.  Despite an undercurrent of pathos and loss laughter wins out in this intimate neighbourhood theatre, above the Tabard pub in the heart of Chiswick.

On an unremittingly wet Wednesday night The Theatre at the Tabard exudes a warm, friendly atmosphere with a loyal audience.   It’s a family-run effort, with Simon and Sarah Reilly winning the contract to run the theatre from last summer.  Daughter Alyssa can be seen on programme-selling duty.

The Theatre at the Tabard is one of the largest studio theatres in London and has been operating since 1985.  The pub itself is worth a visit, dating back to 1880, with its upper walls covered with exquisite arts and crafts tiles by Victorian potter William De Morgan, friend to world famous William Morris.

It’s the perfect combination: a cheery pub downstairs and terrific theatre upstairs under the same dry roof.   Cheers.

Gill Martin, November 2022

Photography by Andreas Grieger

From → Drama, Tabard Theatre

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