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Trial by Laughter

22nd January 2019 - 27th January 2019



Following critical acclaim for The Wipers Times, Ian Hislop and Nick Newman have once again taken inspiration from real life events for their new play Trial by Laughter.

William Hone, the forgotten hero of free speech, was a bookseller, publisher and satirist. In 1817, he stood trial for ‘impious blasphemy and seditious libel’. The only crime he had committed was to be funny. Worse than that he was funny by parodying religious texts. And worst of all, he was funny about the despotic government and the libidinous monarchy.

The cast includes Helena Antoniou (Lady Hertford), Philippe Edwards (Sidmouth), Jeremy Lloyd (Prince Regent), Peter Losasso (Cruickshank), Nicholas Murchie (Justice Abbott/Duke of York), Joseph Prowen (Hone), and Eva Scott (Lady Conyngham/Sarah)

There will be a post-show talk with Ian Hislop and Nick Newman after the 7:30pm performance on Tuesday 22nd January. Free to all ticket holders.


A Watermill Theatre production.

★★★★ “A David-V-Goliath celebration of dissent” Daily Telegraph
★★★★ “Irritatingly good” Daily Mail
★★★★ “Another winner for Hislop and Newman” WhatsOnStage


Trial By Laughter at The Watermill Theatre
Photographs by Philip Tull.



22nd January 2019
27th January 2019
Event Categories:


Festival Theatre
Grange Road
Malvern, WR14 3HB


Mats: £28.56, £26.32, £22.96, £19.60 & £16.24
Tues-Thurs Eves: £30.80, £28.56, £25.20, £21.84 & £18.48
Fri & Sat eves: £33.04, £30.80, £27.44, £24.08 & £20.72
Concessions and members discounts apply
Under 26s all seats £8.96
Prices include 12% booking fee
Show Times:
Eves 7.30pm
Wed & Sat Mats 2.30pm

Event Reviews

  • Marion

    A very clever and well written play about the little known story of bookseller and satirist William Hone and his trials for blasphemy and libel. The play is witty with excellent characters. Was it coincidence that the Prince Regent bore a striking resemblance to Boris Johnston ? A brilliant very talented cast. The point about freedom of speech is very relevant today

  • Choice Radio Worcester

    Something of a coup for Malvern Theatres this week as they get to stage the world premiere of a new play by esteemed satirists Ian Hislop and Nick Newman.

    Hislop himself is, of course, no stranger to the courts, having been brought before them more than 40 times... Trial By Laughter is the true story of one man who, whilst now largely forgotten, was somewhat more successful than Hislop in getting Not Guilty verdicts. That man was William Hone (superbly played here by Joseph Prowen, who kept the attention of the audience – and the jury - throughout the play).

    In a perfect example of how fact can be stranger than fiction, just before Christmas in 1817 poor Hone was taken to court charged with seditious libel and blasphemy, having dared to attack the rather portly and debauched Prince Regent and more generally the Tory government of the day by parodying, amongst others, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. Whilst his lively defence gained the support of the jury, that decision did no find favour with the Prince Regent who demanded a retrial. That didn't go well. So then there was another. Three days of defending himself and the wider community of satirists and cartoonists (who, to be fair, were quite relentless in their mockery of the establishment - think Spitting Image a couple of decades ago, which the playwrights also had a hand in).

    To highlight the reasons for their mockery, the play presents the Prince Regent (Jeremy Lloyd) and his ladies in the same way as did the cartoons of the day - fat, bumbling, licentious idiots without much care about how the establishment viewed them.

    Such was Hone’s impassioned plea for acquittal that the audience and - due to clever positioning of loudspeakers in the auditorium - the jury, who were often heard voicing their support much to the chagrin of court officials, everyone is on his side, especially when the family background to the judge is revealed...

    It is not often that trials are so entertaining and this could easily have been a rather dry retelling of a story. It is certainly not that. The subject matter of mocking the state and Royals - something we do so well and is clearly in our DNA - gave the current-day satirists a golden opportunity to revel in their art and to acknowledge two things. Without the likes of Hone two centuries ago who set a precedent by fighting against the odds for what he believed in, we could not have e freedom to do that today. And that there are still countries today where sadly it is deemed blasphemous if individuals show any view other than what their government requires.

    Whilst all the scene changes worked like clockwork, unfortunately the clock itself - an essential element to show the passing of time forwards and backwards - decided to become rather mischievous itself during the second half, disappearing from time to time to be replaced by that annoying hourglass we know so well whilst waiting for something to happen on our computers. Ah well, it was the first night of the play...

    And the fact that it was the first night provided a further bonus. Both Hislop and Newman were watching from the stalls and then came up on stage after the show for a fascinating Q&A session along with actor Dan Mersh for which gratifyingly virtually the whole of the packed house remained.

    A very enjoyable and eye-opening evening which should make us grateful for the freedoms and the right to question and mock our "masters" which we enjoy today – even if Hislop dos sometimes pay for it dearly on our behalf! It’s also well worth getting the programme which contains much more information about the real facts behind the show. You really couldn’t make it up!

  • Vicky

    A brilliant night. Such an incredible story very cleverly staged. Added bonus was the post-show Q & A!

  • Christopher

    a brilliant very funny performance carried out by very professional actors

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