Written by Paul Lichtenstern (who also directs) and James Thomson (who also stars), Laughing Matter is a verbatim piece that focuses on understanding the death of a parent, and it is theatre company End of Moving Walkway’s first devised play. While at times the concepts explored can get slightly intense and hard to follow, the funny and very touching aspects of the show make it a great hour of theatre.
While working on a theatre project he was developing, Thomson was secretly recording day-to-day conversations between his own family. When his father passed away, these recordings were the only things Thomson had. These mundane interactions suddenly became significant to him. Using one of these fragments, Lichtenstern and Thomson attempt to find meaning in the world.
Thomson’s performance is energetic and engaging at the beginning, and when speaking to the audience directly his sincerity is comforting. However, once he begins to repeatedly focus on colour perception, physics and the universe in order to gain a profound understanding of our place in the world, the story becomes very hard to follow. When he first appears on stage, he says he has come up with a list of three things that will help defend his choice of subject matter. Whether or not he actually lists these things at any point gets drowned in the lengthy chat about space and the number of stars and planets that exist in the universe. The points that the first part of the piece tries to are swallowed up in this dominating dense discourse, and it is consequently hard to follow and make sense of.
However, once Thomson’s father Simon (performed brilliantly by Keith Hill) joins him on stage, the interactions between the father and son are touching to watch. Their conversation highlights the ups and downs presented in all relationships, especially those between parents and children. James is short-tempered with his dad and even insulting at times. When the scene is played over and over again, he attempts to engage with his father in slightly different ways, aiming to gain a different perspective from his speech, trying to make the moment last. Thomson and Hill are brilliant on stage together, and their interactions are moving, which creates an emotional atmosphere in the space.
Lichtenstern and Thomson have created a piece of work that makes the audience consider their own relationships with their loved ones, while also questioning their existence in the universe. The subject matter is poignant, and even though some of science talk gets boring, the humour and warmth of the show makes it enjoyable and well worth a visit to the King’s Head Theatre.
Laughing Matter is at the King’s Head Theatre until 16th July.