Fringe Box



Stage Dragon: Trial by Laughter – Yvonne Arnaud Threatre

Published on: 31 Oct, 2018
Updated on: 31 Oct, 2018

Trial By Laughter – Joseph Prowen, Peter Losasso and Nicholas Murchie Photo: Philip Tull

By Ferenc Hepp

Trial by Laughter has an interesting connection between its writers and the protagonists in the play staged this week at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

One of the co-writers is Ian Hislop, editor of the satirical publication, Private Eye, who has been sued many times by various politicians and celebrities following his articles. He is mirrored in the play by William Hone (played by Joseph Prowen), a bookseller and satirist from the early 19th century who has to stand trial three times being accused of making fun of the monarchy.

Co-writer Nick Newman is a satirical cartoonist, who collaborated with Hislop, is mirrored by George Cruikshank (Peter Losasso) who collaborates with Hone and stands by him throughout his ordeal.

Guildford is the second stop on a tour by the producers of the show; Trademark Touring and Watermill Theatre. It opened in Newbury last week and will end up in Eastbourne in March next year.

Dora Schweitzer’s design is a festival of mahogany which suits the style of the piece well and contains some secret compartments which aid the numerous scene changes by hiding desks and other furniture within the panelling.

Each member of the ensemble takes on numerous characters (with the exception of Hone) and we see some well-timed humour very early on by Jeremy Lloyd as the bumbling Prince Regent and Helena Antoniou as Lady Hertford.

They are certainly not very keen on Hone’s interpretation of them as having a “fuller figure” and want him punished. This results in Hone’s first trial which is quite fast paced and includes numerous flashback scenes as he prepares his defence.

Nicholas Murchie is a suitably judicial Justice Abbott presiding over the first trial, but since The Prince is very displeased that Hone is found not guilty, the much more menacing Lord Ellenborough (Dan Tetsell) takes charge when he is tried the second and third time around.

Hone understandably finds this ordeal difficult to deal with and this does come across well from Prowen, however, instead of the pace and drama coming to a crescendo, as we move into act two after the second trial, it rather frustratingly goes the other way and I found myself wanting the long third trial to come to a conclusion before it actually did.

It almost felt like the eight hours which Hone actually took, back in 1817, to defend himself. However, this is not the fault of the actors as they all do an excellent job with their various characters; it is the script which, although it has potential, needs some further development and editing.

Newman describes the play as “a historical courtroom thriller with jokes, which means it’s three different genres in one, for just one ticket price”.  But the jokes are few and far between and the courtroom is not very thrilling.

Losasso has fantastic energy as Cruikshank and I also enjoyed the physical comedy by Lloyd and Antoniou which I wanted to see more of, but this was not enough to rescue this production as a whole, a surprise as I am a normally a big fan of Hislop’s humour and writing.

Trial by Laughter runs until Saturday, 3 November (2018) and tickets are available via the website: or by calling the box office on: 01483 440000.


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