Milton Keynes Theatre – 25th February – 2nd March 2019
After the success of ‘The Wipers Times’, Ian Hislop and Nick Newman return with their brand-new show, ‘Trial By Laughter’. I was lucky enough to be given five minutes with these intellectual heavyweights to talk about the show, a forgotten hero of history and the importance of freedom of speech.
As a man whose courtroom record for libel charges stands at a remarkable 41 cases, it’s no surprise that freedom of speech is top of the list for Ian Hislop. And indeed, it is freedom of speech that underpins his and Nick Newman’s latest offering to the comedy world, ‘Trial By Laughter’. The play traces the forgotten story of William Hone, a book seller, publisher and satirist taken to court by the Crown on charges of libel. But, despite the seemingly serious nature of his crimes, Hone took a different approach to his legal defence: instead of feigning innocence, he attempted to turn his case into a farce and make the jury laugh. It is this farcical side to the story that made Ian and Nick excited to finally tell his story.
“Hone was making all the headlines for this amazing defence of free speech and press freedom,” Nick explains to me, as I embarrassingly plead ignorance to never having heard of William Hone before. Fortunately, Ian is quick to save my blushes and tell me that neither had they: “And [the Regency period] was Nick’s specialist subject at University!”
It’s clear that freedom of speech is what links the story to our modern world, so I ask where they see the role of comedy in ensuring that important arguments are not silenced. “Hone is a great example of punching up…which, for my money, is what satire is supposed to do,” Ian muses, “the point of freedom of speech, it can be abused, it can look not very pretty [but] it is essential.” Nick expresses his agreement, too: “Hone was all about laughing our masters to scorn… until they [would] stop being ridiculous,” he smiles, “every bit of it you keep thinking ‘surely that bit isn’t true!’”
Farce and freedom of speech are undoubtedly key ingredients in this production, but it’s also clear that there’s a brilliantly constructed playing underpinning it all, so I ask what else the audience can expect. “We hope that it’s inspirational and uplifting…if you come out with a ‘song’ in your heart that’s what it’s all about for us, and I think we do that,” Nick says, serenely.
And indeed, Ian heartily agrees: “You should get a courtroom thriller, a comedy, a historical drama, and that’s for one ticket!”
‘Trial By Laughter’ will be at the Milton Keynes Theatre from 25th February to 2nd March.
Tickets can be purchased here: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/trial-by-laughter/milton-keynes-theatre/