‘When I heard that my play ‘Warai no Daigaku (Academy of Laughter)’ was going to be staged as ‘The Last Laugh’ in England, I handed my script over with no strings attached and told them they could adapt it any way they wanted. I even said they didn’t have to bother giving me a credit,” said 45-year-old director Koki Mitani, one of Japan’s most popular playwrights, in a recent television interview.

Mitani said he didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize this adaptation (directed by Bob Tomson) because so few Japanese contemporary plays are staged in Britain (unlike more traditional forms like noh).

With its two-man cast, “Warai no Daigaku” was written by Mitani as a radio drama in 1994, before being staged to acclaim in 1996 at the Parco Theater in Shibuya, scooping “Best Play” in that year’s Yomiuri Theater Awards. The play was made into a hit film in 2004 and is now widely acknowledged as Mitani’s most important work.

Set in a fictitious dictatorial wartime regime, the drama concerns a comedy writer (played by BAFTA-nominated Martin Freeman, well-known for playing bumbling innocent Tim in Ricky Gervais’ hit BBC comedy series “The Office”) summoned to the office of a government censor (veteran comedy actor Roger Lloyd Pack, best known for playing Trigger in another BBC series, “Only Fools and Horses”) and told to rewrite his new play to conform with the official line. As the two debate, the writer eventually agrees to cut most of the funny parts until his play becomes almost unrecognizable.

Speaking in the same TV interview, Freeman said of Mitani’s original play: “I understood why it is called a ‘modern classic’ in Japan. It’s a very thoughtful play and a great idea.” Intriguing, especially if you ponder the English meaning of the phrase “the last laugh.”

“The Last Laugh” runs (in English) from July 11-22 at the Parco Theater, an 8-minute walk from JR Shibuya Station (admission 8,400). It also runs July 4-5 at the Theater Brava in Osaka (6,300, 8,400).

For more details, call the Parco Theater at (03) 3477-5858 or visit www.parco-play.com

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