Encountering the individual human faces of those caught on the ground as the doctrines of social engineering work their way out is seldom pleasant – often forcing one to question even the noblest legislation. One such face is that of Barry Sutherland, the central character referred to in the title of Craig Freimond’s The King of Laughter.
Barry is the perfect vehicle for veteran actor James Borthwick, who is on stage throughout the 70 minutes: a grouchy, mid-fifty, serial divorcee at the peak of his professional acumen. Specialised in fitting canned laughter to television sitcoms he is more of an artist than a sound engineer.
Barry is about to be ‘hoofed’ – forced unceremoniously into early retirement – made into glue like an old horse as he phrases it with poignant humour. He has two months to train his young affirmative action replacement, Jerome. Upping the moral ante is the fact that Jerome (Wayne van Rooyen) is on the face of it patently unsuitable – he has absolutely no sense of humour.
The otherwise television styled script – mostly mildly amusing family sitcom routine in irritatingly short takes that have the lights wincing on and off like a migraine – at last crosses into live theatre when Barry must teach Jerome laughter meditation. Van Rooyen does well as the classic straight-faced stooge – particularly effective when the contagious laughter spills over from the audience into feigned corpsing on stage.
It’s a humanising comedy with ‘respect’ at its fulcrum. If there is any villainy it is the faceless corporate directors implementing policy with cold commercial tyranny. Barry conquers his chagrin – in the end passing on to Jerome his most precious possession – his lifetime collection of laughter-takes. Jerome, with a little nurturing can rightfully feel he has achieved his new position and is not just another epigone. Starting from an unpromising situation, this is a hopeful and remedial story of co-operation, resourcefulness and mutual respect.