In a two hander exploring censorship in comedy, The Last Laugh is coming to Tabard Theatre this month. With clashing opinions, the show details their journey to compromise, and the importance of having a laugh with one another, despite outside circumstances.
Matt Wake is playing The Writer- read below to find out more about the piece as he answers some questions.
Please can you tell us a little about the show, and who you play?
The Last Laugh is a black comedy about a young writer living in a totalitarian state that’s currently at war. He’s written a new play that he’s looking to stage with his theatre company, but the facist government requires all pieces of publishing to be scrutinised and approved by a censor. The problem is that the censor who has been assigned to assess the writer’s play is a hilariously tough and hyper-suspicious ex-soldier who knows nothing about theatre. Over a few days, the writer tries desperately to gain the censor’s approval whilst also attempting to accommodate his increasingly ridiculous demands.
I play the writer. He’s an idealistic happy-go-lucky kind of guy, but he finds himself up against a stone-cold wall of a man. The conflict between the two is incredibly funny, and also very thought-provoking.
How are the concepts of expression and censorship around comedy relevant to society today?
We’re privileged in this country to have the right to speak and to express ourselves freely. But then we also have to face the reality that some will use that to spread hate and discrimination. How do you mediate that? There have been examples in the last year or so of public figures spreading harmful content online, and as a result they’ve been removed from platforms like Twitter and Instagram. I don’t think spreading hate or harm is ever okay, but once we start removing people’s right to speak, where does that stop? Are we starting on a dangerous path? How do you protect society from harmful content whilst maintaining freedom of speech? It’s a tricky thing to navigate and of course the digital world is still pretty new to the world. I don’t know what the answer is.
Are there views of your character that you personally share, in terms of whether comedy should be restricted in its output?
The writer learns that his comedy can be used as a tool for change. This is something that I support. We’re all different and we all consume art and information differently. Sometimes advocating for change can be pretty hard-going. It can be tough or uncomfortable to receive important messages, and I think comedy can often spark debate in a way that’s not too overbearing or forceful. That’s not to take away from any other artistic mediums, but I think comedy is an effective way of enhancing our ability to reflect on society. I think the writer knows that censoring comedy would restrict this and that’s something that I agree with.
How is the atmosphere while working on a comedic piece, particularly with only one other in the cast?
To be honest, it’s no different to working on a dramatic piece. One of the things my fellow cast member, David, has helped me learn is that it’s as important to give a comedy the same amount of care as any other piece, but to work out exactly where to focus that care. For example, a drama might require a lot of in-depth consideration for a character’s psychological complexes, whereas in a comedy, perhaps that same amount of detail and attention is better spent on making sure you’re understanding the rhythm and timing of each scene. And that’s been the best part about working in just a cast of two - I’ve been able to learn things like that from David, and I hope he’s been able to take something from my work as well. Rehearsing just the two of you allows you to build a really rich understanding, and David has been an outstanding scene partner.
What is your favourite part of the script, and can you share this with us?
I can’t say too much because my favourite part is near the end, and I don’t want to ruin anything. But what I will say is that these two characters spend so much time with their social masks on, clinging to their self-constructed identities, and there are one or two incidents where those masks slip. The two characters are forced to confront each other without the protection of their formailites and that makes for some really unexpected interactions.
What satirical message does the show convey?
I hope that everyone takes something different from the play. To me, it highlights how easy it is for oppression to take root. If we start to suppress art and expression even slightly, that can quickly lead to a society characterised by fear.
What kind of person would enjoy being in the audience of this piece?
I think, and I hope, there’s something in it for everyone. Ultimately it’s a comedy and I mostly want people to have a good laugh. If you’re looking for a really fun night out, and some topical conversations to be had over your post-show drink, then this is the show for you.
Some brilliant answers there by Matt- thanks so much for taking part, and telling us about your show. Best wishes for the run!
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Additional thanks to Rebecca Bullamore for coordinating this interview.