Hurrah for re-openings! The first major production at the rebranded Theatre at the Tabard is Richard Harris’s comic piece The Last Laugh – itself based on a play by Japanese writer Kōki Mitani.
With a bit of a spruce up and refit, this space is now assured for the next ten years under the general manager who ran the Tabard Theatre in previous times. A strong start feels assured.
A young man, The Writer (Matt Wake), is summoned to the theatre censorship office to hear whether his comedy script has been passed for performance in this unnamed dictatorship.
The Censor, (David Tarkenter), a soldier who has never been to the theatre and understands nothing about stagecraft, comedy, or people in general, now has the role in preference to a more lax predecessor, and wears the stark uniform of the fascist regime.
The majority of act one comprises meetings between the two: while the country is at war and, it seems, under an unbending leadership who will shoot or disappear people at will, more outlandish and odd requests are made of The Writer.
Both Wake, a recent graduate, and Tarkenter are absolutely spot on in their characterisations, forming a bond of brotherhood within one room.
Wake’s bouncy Writer settles into something stronger while Tarkenter’s Censor finds his soft core but hates to leave it visible. There is a great depth to both characters and Wake does well to keep up with Tarkenter’s dazzling portrayal of a man who has spent all his life obeying orders without question.
Act two veers into the farcical and the dangerous in equal measure. Henry V may romance Juliet while comedy coppers proclaim propaganda, but there is also truth in a stronger and more broadly amusing piece.
Harris’s dialogue is very sharp and funny, and the performances of both actors adds to the general sense of amusement. Even within this exploration of what is ‘fun’ there is a sense of an authoritarian state set up to crush its citizens.
The sound of activity (military?) outsude the office window add to this slight feeling of unease; one where a crow with a damaged wing may achieve more freedom than any human inhabitant of this world.
Despite the delightful nods to stage business and TV classics (“I didn’t get whère I am today …”), The Last Laugh is not afraid to tackle moments of poignancy, too, as The Censor reacts to the changing world and personal upheaval.
This is a fine production to start Theatre at the Tabard on its new path. Directed by Nick Bromley with brilliant clarity, sharply designed, and with fine, atmospheric lighting by Nat Green, this play is what might be termed a corker.
You can watch The Last Laugh at Theatre at the Tabard (just round the corner from Turnham Green station) until 3 December. Book here.
Image credit: Andreas Grieger