Laughing Mirror Theatre bring their first show since the pandemic back to London’s fringe, with plenty of music and TV references laced with bad jokes and an awareness of the limitations of next to no budget.
We are in the age of the Stuarts, although the rather dim King James doesn’t know it. His persecution of the Catholics have left them keen to blow him up along with the troupe of drunken lords and freeloaders who laugh at the poor.
Written and directed by Chad Porter and James Darby, it’s all gloriously silly, with multiple parts, walk-ons, walk-offs, a vain Fawkes, a courtly romance a la Titanic, and even a message from God. It’s Blackadder crossed with student Rag Week.
The mood is set pre-show as the house opens – one actor (Daniel Hemsley) is handcuffed and gagged on the stage, but engages in repartee with the audience. At the side, two masked individuals hold up photos with “is this you?’ and “do you know this man?”
We all know about the Gunpowder Plot, and how effigies of Guy Fawkes are burned and fireworks set off to celebrate the failure of the conspiracy to unseat due democracy.
Fawkes, here, has both a high opinion of himself and a lack of any real skill. Beset with problems from dumb colleagues and a Royal detective who is more Target than Taggart, he truly “fawkes up” the grand plan.
Not every joke – groanworthy ot not – lands, and although the issue of inconvenient multi-casting is addressed, it sometimes feels forced. One character completely disappears, not even missed in the finale.
What works well is the use of the space at Waterloo East. There’s no set, just a few props. The area by the aisle seats is well used especially for one particular sequence which may make those who sat through Christian assemblies remember the catchy songs in praise of the Lord.
There are a couple of moments I’d happily cut for sense and pacing mainly around the interminable introductory scene which includes many folk we never hear of again.
As a tongue-in-cheek exploration of historical events I enjoyed it, and Guy (Harrison Cole), James (Seb Fear), Frances (Ellie Church) and Roberta (Jess Cuthbert) stood out among the characterisations.
With the Queen (Hattie Manton) also playing a prominent role it was good to see women on an equal footing to the men in what is often a testosterone-heavy tale.