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2019 October Comedians

by Trevor Griffiths
15th – 19th October
Directed by Stewart Grant

First performed in 1975, Trevor Griffiths’ ground-breaking play Comedians raised important questions about society, the nature of comedy, social class and racial stereotyping. It revealed the disturbing reality behind mainstream comedy which at the time largely consisted of racist and sexist jokes, typified by the hit ITV programme ‘The Comedians’.

Set in a Manchester evening class run by aging ex-music hall comic Eddie Waters, the play follows the progress of six would-be comedians, desperate to make a name for themselves on the professional circuit. They are about to perform at a working men’s club in front of an agent who can offer them a way in to fame and fortune. In an era when sexism and racism were the norm, how low will the lads go to win success?

Our production of this astonishing play will be as true to the original performance as we can get. By staging it in this way we will be asking how much attitudes have really changed in the last 43 years.
Please note: The play contains frequent swearing and foul language. It also contains language and attitudes which are now socially unacceptable but were current at the time.

‘Comedians’: the tears of laughter

What is comedy? What is laughter? Where do they come from, and why?

As one philosopher suggested at the start of the last century, in a totally caring society, a society in which everyone was wholly attuned to the feelings of others, laughter would be almost impossible – for laughter generally demands a ‘victim’. Remember all those silent slapstick comedies? What about the downfall and pain of the man who slips up on the banana skin? Or the violence in a Tom and Jerry cartoon? Consider the humiliations suffered by the likes of Tony Hancock, Harold Steptoe, Inspector Clouseau, David Brent and (more recently) ‘Fleabag’. The truth is that we are often laughing at the real or imagined hurt or failure of another when we react to comedy.

Society has gained in sensitivity over the decades where the feelings of others are concerned; and our attitude to what is acceptable in the field of humour has changed markedly. Most of us are no longer tolerant of the sexist or racist ‘joke’. What was considered suitable subject matter for humour 40 years ago – mothers-in-law, homosexuality, disabled people, Irishmen, buxom blondes – is now largely deemed unacceptable and inappropriate. The new buzzword is ‘woke’, an adjective which describes a state of awareness of sensitive issues and injustices in society. Our present-day society has become ‘woke’ to the feelings of others.

Trevor Griffiths’ most famous play, Comedians, makes its audience think deeply about the nature of comedy and its power to sustain and reinforce cultural stereotypes and prejudice by its choice of ‘victim’. It was written and first performed in the mid-1970s, long before the rise of ‘Alternative Comedy’ in the 1980s ousted the type of material which was a staple of stand-up performance in the old Variety Shows and working men’s clubs. (Indeed, some speculate that this play actually helped bring about ‘Alternative Comedy’.)

Comedians exposes what lay beneath the repertoire of many comics at the time of its writing:

‘A joke that feeds on ignorance starves its audience. We have the choice… Most comics feed prejudice and fear and blinkered vision, but the best ones, the best ones…illuminate them, make them clearer to see, easier to deal with. We’ve got to make people laugh till they cry. Cry. Till they find their pain and their beauty. Comedy is medicine. Not coloured sweeties to rot their teeth with.’

Griffiths’ play remains a brilliant and searching critique of humour in society and culture, and raises the possibility of a new comic awareness, cleverly drawing attention to the prejudices which often lurk, hidden and unquestioned, under the guise of a joke. Comedy is not just a laughing matter, you see, but food for some serious thought.

Geoffrey Hall

A Workington Playgoers Production

Programme
Programme

Previews

When Every Joke is a Final Solution

cumbriaguide.co.uk

Our writer Craig Wishart was not sure what to expect from the Workington Playgoers performance of Comedians but he certainly took away a lot more than he bargained for.

I admit I had virtually no understanding what to expect when I took my seat for the Workington Playgoers performance of Trevor Griffiths’ Comedians.

After all, I was barely out of the womb when the play was first performed in Nottingham in 1975 and while years that followed was important in my personal development but they were also transformative years for comedy.  And many cite Comedians as the beginning of the shift in attitudes.

By the time my sense of humour had developed, comedy had changed from the racist, sexist and homophobic jokes of the 1970s and, growing up in a more liberal society, I‘d assumed we’d moved on and put it behind us.

So when the lights came on I expected politically incorrect jokes that should have been resigned to the history books but what I watched was a message that should not be forgotten by any generation.

Comedians does not look back with love and affection on long gone, smoke-filled comedy venues, it’s not a nostalgic romp through the good old days and the title disguises some very dark and forthright themes.

It’s actually a very challenging and bold play for a local theatre company to undertake and I’m not simply referring to the topics and prejudices it tries to unravel.

Comedians requires strong performances, it needs them to get its underlying message across and the Playgoers were certainly up to the challenge.  This is not a performance of quick throwaway one-liners, the dialogue can be intense at times and the characters need time to make some very pertinent points on the nature of the comedy at that time and on how society views each other.

The scripts must have taken a good deal of time to learn and were delivered beautifully.

Morgan Sweeney was wonderful as the ageing comic Eddie Waters and his emotion was palpable in the final scene which deals with one of the most horrific chapters of human history.

James Last was perfect as the challenging and confrontational Gethin Price.  It can’t be easy to play an antagonist who is not actually the bad guy and James did well to

tread the fine line with an uncompromising performance that could leave you squirming in your seat at times.

Marc Goodwin (George McBrain) and Stewart Grant (Sammy Samuels) brought humour and levity between bouts of being politically incorrect that bordered on the offensive and Marc Baillie, Will Tillotson and Ian Quirk dealt superbly with the conflicted emotions of their respective comics.

Richard Harris, Tony Parker, Sarah Delorme and Max Sutton admirably filled the supporting roles in this play that did not need a large cast.

Comedians is often endearing, thought-provoking and also quite harsh and brutal.  The characters that choose wisely are not necessarily the one you prefer and the ones willing to follow the path of least resistance for the sake of their career are very likeable.

With the state of our modern world, our celebrities, politicians and influencers, Comedians asks questions that go way beyond the setting of a fictional Manchester classroom and the choices individuals make to succeed. 

Likeable can earn plaudits, admirers and fame while what is ‘right’ often wins little more than obscurity, soul searching and life back driving buses.

Comedians is still relevant today, it’s a credit to the Playgoers they chose such a challenging topic and gave a performance that pushed me to contemplate the obvious changes in society and wonder whether other parts have barely moved on at all.

The Comedians’ era was no joke

www.timesandstar.co.uk

Go back to the bad old days of 1970s with the Theatre Royal, as they dare to go there with Trevor Griffiths’ play Comedians.  The ground-breaking play was first performed in 1975, when mainstream comedy largely consisted of racist and sexist material and ITV’s The Comedians was a hit show.  Featuring a strong cast of seasoned actors, this will be a very thought-provoking show, but also a very entertaining one too.

The play is set in a Manchester evening class run by ageing ex-music hall comic Eddie Waters.  Six would-be comedians, desperate to make a name for themselves on the professional circuit, are followed as they try to break through into the tough comedy scene.   They are due to perform at a working men’s club in front of an agent who can offer them a way in to fame and fortune. But how low will the lads go in their search for success?

Director Stewart Grant says: “Our production of this astonishing play will be as true to the original performance as we can get.  By staging it in this way we will be asking how much attitudes have really changed in the last 44 years.”   He warns that the play contains frequent swearing and foul language, as well as language and attitudes which are now socially unacceptable but were current at the time.

The play runs at Theatre Royal, Workington from October 15 to 19 2019

Tickets are £11.50 (or £10.50 concessions) and can be booked online  or a message can be left at the box office on 01900 603161

Back to the 1970s, with award-winning comedy at the Theatre Royal

Cumbria Crack

For their next show, from 15th to 19th October, the Workington Playgoers will be taking audiences back to the Bad Old Days of the 1970s, with a play that won a Tony Award when it was performed on Broadway.  Comedians, by Trevor Griffiths, is still regarded as one of the best pieces of drama written in the late twentieth century. It was first performed in 1975, at a time when mainstream comedy largely consisted of racist and sexist jokes, as in the hit ITV programme ‘The Comedians’.

Set in a Manchester evening class run by aging ex-music hall comic Eddie Waters, the play follows the progress of six would-be comedians, desperate to make a name for themselves on the professional circuit. They are about to perform at a work

ing men’s club in front of an agent who can offer them a way in to fame and fortune. But how low will the lads go in their search for success?

Director Stewart Grant says: ‘Our production of this astonishing play will be as true to

the original performance as we can get. By staging it in this way we will be asking how much attitudes have really changed in the last 44 years.’ He warns that the play contains strong language, as well as language and attitudes which are now socially unacceptable but were current at the time.

But this is a play that will make you think about why you are laughing. Remember all those silent slapstick comedies? What about the downfall and pain of the man who slips up on the banana skin? Or the violence in a Tom and Jerry cartoon? Consider

the humiliations suffered by Tony Hancock, Harold Steptoe, Inspector Clouseau, David Brent or (more recently) ‘Fleabag’. The truth is that we are often laughing at the real or imagined hurt or failure of another – and this play makes us realise that comedy is not just a laughing matter.

Back to the 1970s with award-winning comedy at the Theatre Royal

cumbriaguide.co.uk

For their next show, from 15th to 19th October, the Workington Playgoers will be taking audiences back to the Bad Old Days of the 1970s, with a play that won a Tony Award when it was performed on Broadway.

Comedians, by Trevor Griffiths, is still regarded as one of the best pieces of drama written in the late twentieth century. It was first performed in 1975, at a time when mainstream comedy largely consisted of racist and sexist jokes, as in the hit ITV programme ‘The Comedians’.

Set in a Manchester evening class run by aging ex-music hall comic Eddie Waters, the play follows the progress of six would-be comedians, desperate to make a name for themselves on the professional circuit. They are about to perform at a working men’s club in front of an agent who can offer them a way in to fame and fortune. But how low will the lads go in their search for success?

Director Stewart Grant says: ‘Our production of this astonishing play will be as true to the original performance as we can get. By staging it in this way we will be asking how much attitudes have really changed in the last 44 years.’ He warns that the play contains strong language, as well as language and attitudes which are now socially unacceptable but were current at the time.

Programme

Show Details

Doors open: 7.00pm
Performance: 7.30pm
Running Time: 2.5 hours with intermission
Date: Tues 15th – Sat 19th October 2019

Tickets:
Adults £11.50
Concessions £10.50

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