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Theatre review: Trial by Laughter at The Lowry

Following their previous stage success The Wipers Times, which sold out both in the West End and across the country, Ian Hislop and Nick Newman are back to entertain us with their latest sharply observed stage production, showing this week at The Lowry theatre, Salford.

Author’s own

Inspired by real life events and based on the critically acclaimed original BBC4 drama of the same name, Trial by Laughter, takes us back over two centuries to 1817, and tells the tale of bookseller, publisher and satirist William Hone (engagingly and energetically played by Joseph Prowen), who stood trial for parodying religion, the despotic government and the lustful monarchy.

Author’s own

As Ian Hislop himself highlights in the programme notes. he’s been the defendant in a number of libel trials in the past in his capacity as Editor of Private Eye.

Political, satirical and let’s add hysterical cartoonist Nick Newman, is equally qualified to tell this tale of whether humour sees off libel when it comes to press freedom.


The play is fast-paced, snappy and as, you might expect, wondrously witty.

The stage is set up so that for courtroom scenes (frequently and cleverly interspersed by rapid location changes which punctuate the play), Judge, prosecution and defence face us, the audience, who find ourselves in the position of jury and public gallery.


This device works well although it should be noted that any reaction displayed to proceedings will be assisted by the brilliantly funny retorts from unseen attendees as piped through from the back of the theatre.


This historical romp takes us through Hone’s three separate court hearings held over three consecutive days, such is the insistence of Prince Regent (depicted brilliantly by Jeremy Lloyd – each of his scenes a living, breathing satirical cartoon) to have Hone punished for ridiculing his somewhat rotund appearance. publishing satirical versions of texts heard in church.

A charge of blasphemous libel is brought against Hone which carried potential sentences of a lengthy prison sentence or deportation to Australia.


It was even more impressive, therefore, that William Hone represented himself in court to fight off such weighty accusations.

Now, I went to see this fine play during the same week that I concluded a journey down the rabbit hole that is the Netflix Conversation with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.

Stay with me.

The only parallel I am drawing here is the wish for an accused to provide his own legal defence. History books and a visit to the theatre will tell you who was the more successful…Oh and Netflix.


In a post-Leveson Inquiry era, filled with super-injuctions and fevered attempts for the law to catch up with social media, this brilliant tale begs the question, can laughter outweigh libel (and should it)?

(I think yes, but don’t listen to me. I bring Bundy into everything.)

Trial by Laughter is showing at The Lowry until Saturday 2 February. For tickets and more details including cast and production, visit The Lowry website.

Photo credit: Philip Tull (unless specified otherwise).

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Theatre review: Romeo and Juliet – Moscow City Ballet

I love Prokofiev’s score, Shakespeare’s story, and I love going to the ballet. So with all ingredients in place, it is natural that I have seen multiple ballet productions of Romeo and Juliet in the past and either because of or despite this, I happily wanted to see the latest brought to Manchester; this time by the Moscow City Ballet at the Palace Theatre.

And so what would this production of the infamous star-crossed lovers bring to the stage?

The Company were in town for two nights, bagging a brace of big production ballets, accompanied by a live orchestra, the  Hungarian Simfonieta Orchestra, conducted by Igor Shavruk.

The second was Swan Lake, the first; this the most famous of love stories.

The costumes were something to behold, the colours dazzling, the flowing fabrics of the female dancers as graceful as the steps performed in them, and the sets simple yet vibrant with curtain backdrops depicting Verona including the infamous balcony and the church where the short-lived marriage took place.

I can’t speak of the aesthetics and costumes, designed by Natalia Povago, without mentioning the challenge posed to principle dancer, Kseniya Stankevich, who, as Juliet, not only stole the show with her heartfelt, honest and moving performance, but even did so for quite some time with a dress which hadn’t quite been zipped up during a scene with her nurse. The tension!

Speaking of the nurse, special mention must be given to Ekaterina Lebedeva who gave a perfectly pitched comedic performance, an almost slapstick affair, as she stomach-juttingly stomped across the stage, gurning away providing a laugh out loud moment and the perfect light relief. And let’s face it, I shouldn’t think I’m giving much away when I point out that whilst Romeo and Juliet is a love story, it is one shrouded in sorrow and devastation.

In fact the production provided perfect light and shade throughout. The shade, whilst most expected, had added dark dimensions by way of the dancers bedecked in swathes of black fabric, depicting pending and eventual death. None more so than in the final scene of the production when the four victims of death, two Capulets, two Montagues, are held aloft in formation – almost symbolic of crucifixion.

But let’s get back to that light – the marriage scene where Juliet and Romeo (Dzimitry Lazovik) charmingly, naively and sweetly steal frantic kisses at the altar behind the Friar’s back, was again a welcome injection of humour to a story that even the least experienced in the texts of Shakespeare knows will end in heartbreak.

In summary, the entire Russian company put on a spirited performance, bringing an oft-told tale of young love and family rivalry alive once again, adding artistry and a touch of beauty, to what would normally be another dark and dreary January night in our dear old city.

For dates of future performances by Moscow City Ballet throughout the UK, see

For all upcoming productions at the Palace Theatre, visit