Review: Trial by Laughter

A bookseller is accused of ‘Impious blasphemy and seditious libel’ and brought to trial, not once, not twice but three times! His defence? To be funny!

This may sound like the work of fiction, however Trial by Laughter tells the true story of William Hone, a writer and publisher of comedic works, who, in 1817 was subjected to three trials on three consecutive days.

Hone’s crime? Hone along with his cartoonist friend and collaborator produced parodies of religious texts including the Lord’s Prayer. However, although the public loved the pair’s work and found their texts and drawings extremely amusing, the ‘butt’ of their jokes, the Prince Regent, later George IV and the establishment were not so enthralled by the ribbing.

Following on from the success of the Wipers Times, Ian Hislop and fellow writer Nick Newman have taken this true tale and brought the story to life on the stage. The imaginative set cleverly transforms to follow the action from the local pub, Hone’s house and the courtroom.

Although Hone’s story has a serious note to it and his trials changed the way for the publishers of written work and censorship laws, this production is full of comedic moments that had the audience laughing.

A talented cast take on a variety of roles with ease and Joseph Prowen played a likeable Hone, who delivered his more comedic lines with perfect timing.

Overall Trail By Laughter makes for a very enjoyable visit to the theatre. A true story brought to life, and a story, that I’m guessing, not many know about. One thing is for sure, you’ll be typing William Hone into a well-known search engine to find out more when you get home!

Trial By Laughter is on at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until 10th November. To book tickets visit or telephone the Box Office on 01473 295900.

Review: Wendy Cook, Ipswich24 Magazine