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Trial By Laughter. Milton Keynes Theatre

If any journalist knows the inside of a courtroom, Ian Hislop does. According to WikiLeaks he is the most sued man in history, so of course, it must be true. Private Eye and Have I Got News For You has firmly put Ian in the public eye so when he decides to create a new play with cartoonist Nick Newman, you know it’s going to be interesting.

Trial by laughter is a new play, based on real events and it’s the story of bookseller, publisher and satirist William Hone, who in 1817, stood for trial for parodying religion, the government and the monarchy. They trialled him not once, not twice but three times on three consecutive days, hoping to wear him down and win, but William was made of stronger stuff and fought it. He was aware of the corrupt laws and even cited a case about a girl who was hanged for murder for alleged poisoned dumplings when no one actullay died. This didn’t help his case at all. Neither did using previous parodies to identify that parodies are often used in humour with political subjects. This true story is really a David and Goliath story. It’s the small man fighting for his right to free speech.

William Hone is played by Joseph Prowen who portrays William as witty and knowledgeable, having to represent himself in court. Joseph plays William as very likeable and the audience are on his side, hoping he wins his trials. Meanwhile the Prince Regent is having too much fun and too much food while waiting for his father to die so he can become king. He doesn’t like Hone as he has sold many prints of him like a whale, as he is the Prince of Wales. The Prince Regent does not find this funny and will go to any lengths to stop Hone and his cartoonist friend, Cruikshank continuing to be subject of the public laughing at him.

The cast are fantastic in this play that is not only funny, but very thought provoking. It really does make you think of how this would impact us today. The Prince of Wales waiting to be King, the government wanting to take down anyone who opposes them and no one should mention religion or dare say anything against it. At this performance we were very lucky to have a Q & A with Nick Newman and Ian Hislop after the show. Questions from the audience were very interesting, especially the comparison of The Prince Regent to President Trump. Ian said that it’s actually a very good analogy. Trump supports those who support him. Any news he doesn’t like is fake news. Ian went on to say that if Trump had the power, he is sure that Trump would lock people up for saying what they think. That is taking away democracy and free speech. So, when you look at it like that, we still need to fight for free speech. This story shows how important it is and how relevant it is even all these hundreds of years later.

It made me realise that without free speech, how could I blog? How could I give my opinions and review? Would I be able to say something that is controversial? Free speech is something worth fighting for and it’s taken a play of a story that is over 200 years old for me to realise that. No one should be told what is allowed to be funny. Trial By Laughter will impact you like no other play can.

Trial By Laughter is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 2 March 2019.

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