Laughing Matter at the King’s Head Theatre
To grapple with the meaning of life must be a rite of passage for many in their teens and twenties. To also lose a parent could only be overwhelming, the pain of it impossible to fathom in light of it all. Laughing Matter by James Thomson is a 20-something’s attempt to make sense of his father’s death and his all-consuming grief amid ruminations about the nature of reality and the universe.
Directed by Paul Lichtenstern, this cutting-edge verbatim piece presents James’ philosophical questions and, from many secret recordings he made of family discussions, a re-enactment of a documented final conversation with his father before his sudden death. It is a conversation repeated over and over in different versions, as James wishes it had occurred, with words he wishes he had said in place of his arrogant, hurtful criticisms. His father (Keith Hill) is wounded by his son’s barbs: “I feel attacked and humiliated because you don’t think I’m worth anything.” We witness these interactions as if voyeurs watching a private family row.
While at first James’ monologue resembles a school philosophy lesson combined with a young mind’s verbalised search for meaning (“…free will is an illusion and the universe is massive…”), as the play unfolds the message of the whole, according to James, is understood: Life is meaningless, yet grief is real: “When you died everything was thrown into sharp focus, because it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter that you died. But it’s still so shit.”
At once philosophical musing, poetry, and verbatim theatre, the piece is unique while employing elements often used in contemporary productions, including audience interaction (engaging spectators in a form of method acting sense memory exercise) and video projection. The solemn subject matter is mellowed via James’ whimsical delivery and the use of humorous material, such as post-show viewer questions that are really pre-recorded audio vocals – another comment on the tenuous validity of perception.
Laughing Matter‘s exposing of raw emotions and the conflicts between father and son has been sharply disapproved of by the writer’s mother and his father’s friends. James Thomson’s bravery in presenting stark truth in such a public way results in a work that is emotionally compelling, thought-provoking and innovative. It is ground breaking art.
Laughing Matter is on at the Kings Head Theatre from 22nd June until 16th July 2016, for further information or to book visit here.