Trial by Laughter at the Richmond Theater

Trial by Laughter at the Richmond Theater

0
 
The problem with this play, and it is a problem, is that it doesn’t know what it is. Is it a comedy, a courtroom drama, a piece of polemic journalism, or a political satire? Laughter may have driven the original rhetoric and William Hone’s own defence two hundred years ago, up in front of the judge for seditious libel and blasphemy, but what was considered funny then, is certainly not funny now. For three days, this poor man ignored legal advise, mostly through penury, and, with the help of his cartoonist friend George Cruikshank, conducted his own defense for hour after hour over a period of three days. The charges, along the court, were farcical, and were instigated by the Prince Regent, the future King George IV of England, who had been ridiculed earlier by James Gillray, depicting him as a drunken, pox-ridden, licentious, gluttonous gourmand, with gambling debts and stinking breath. Gillray accepted the King’s shilling, or rather £200 a year, to produce less vehement and vitriolic drawings of the royal family, and be less critical of government policy. Cruikshank and his publisher Hone were not to take this lying down, and so began a series of drawings depicting the porcine sybarite with his various mistresses, including the pneumatic Lady Hartford, riding upon him as if he were a coach.
 
Much of the dialogue came straight from Hone’s personal notes and accounts of the trials, and, although most articulate in its sentiment, is much too ‘wordy’ for a play that should be rattling along like sporting open-top Phaeton down Fleet Street. There are a few laughs in addition to Hone’s words, including the Duke of York complaining about a popular song involving ten thousand men and a hill in far-off Flanders, which raised a titter. The Prince Regent was played as a caricature of a florid and bewigged voluptuary by Jeremy Lloyd, who seemed to be enjoying himself. Joseph Prowen played Hone with an engaging but earnest manner, while Peter Losasso played Cruikshank as his loyal, but bibulous, friend. Dan Marsh played both the uncompromising judge Ellenborough, and the turbulent essayist and all-round clever-clogs William Hazlitt. Although only ten-strong, the cast shared roles and costumes seamlessly, and filled the stage in the tavern scenes, one set which cleverly morphed from the court-room, and the yard outside Hone’s house and shop. The problem seemed to be, not with the cast, but with the words they all had to utter, which lacked pace, drama and, most importantly, humour. The production moves to Milton Keynes on 25 February and then on to Eastbourne on 5 March..
Trial by Laughter
By Ian Hislop & Nick Newman
Richmond Theatre (and touring)

About author