Islington comedian Stuart Laws on new play The Journey

Stuart Laws. Picture: Edward Moore

Stuart Laws. Picture: Edward Moore - Credit: Archant

Comedian turned playwright Stuart Laws talks about his first play The Journey at the Pleasance and why funny people flourish in Islington

Gabby Best

Gabby Best - Credit: Archant

“The Journey is a romantic comedy about a break-up set on a space ship, and it’s based around a concept which lots of people can identify with: breaking up on holiday,” says comedian turned playwright Stuart Laws about his debut play.

“You’re forced to share this space, the tensions are simmering, but you can’t escape; pop them on a space ship and everything becomes incredibly intense.”

Originally conceived as a magical realist short story, The Journey, which opens at the Pleasance Theatre on November 22, will reach maturity as a dialogue performed by north London actors, Will Brown and Gabby Best.

“Taking a fantastical idea and forcing it to interact with the everyday is what inspired me,” says Laws. “I also wanted to create a narrative which begins as a recognisable romantic comedy, but becomes something quite different. Without giving too much away, the play develops in a, hopefully, unexpected direction which lends new perspective to what comes before.”

Will Brown. Picture: Faye Thomas

Will Brown. Picture: Faye Thomas - Credit: Archant

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Laws’ new play builds on themes from his latest comedy show, Stuart Laws Stops.

“It was about a man meeting the love of his life, but by the end you discover that she’s a fantasy manufactured to give the male lead the appearance of greater emotional depth.”

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The Journey explores how female characters are underserved in the arts and female artists exploited, touching upon themes which feel particularly pertinent in the wake of recent revelations about American film producer Harvey Weinstein.

Channelling the Bechdel drive for gender equality, Laws set out with a conviction that neither of his actors should play “one note roles”.

“As you might expect from a work called The Journey, the characters experience personal as well as geographical shifts”.

Gabby Best’s casting was consequently due in part to her adaptability.

“I once cast Gabby opposite someone with no acting experience who had written the sketch. The writer had a terrible memory, forgetting his own lines and adding new ones randomly; Gabby rolled with it brilliantly.”

Laws, Best, and Brown may all be seasoned comedians, but the long-standing threat of the vaudeville hook hasn’t inured Laws to artistic anxieties. “Stand up can be brutal, but I know that the audience is reacting to my character rather than to me. I might take feedback about the play more personally.”

Although the space-ship break-up is anything but autobiographical, it exposes a private and evolving preoccupation with communication between loved ones.

“Friends in the past would say that they only knew I had a girlfriend after we broke up,” Laws admits, “but getting older has made me realise the immense value of open discussion”.

It makes complete sense then that Laws should bring this personal offering to his creative homeland, Islington. The Journey debuts at the Pleasance Theatre and was rehearsed at The Bill Murray. Laws, who collaborated with the Islington Pleasance on his last two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, hopes to work with the theatre again to re-stage The Journey at next year’s festival.

“Most of my London stand up performances are in Islington. I also ran a gig with Jay Cowle in Angel called The Ideas Factory.” The Ideas Factory led Laws to work with emerging and acclaimed comedians such as Tony Law and James Acaster; “James is in my office right now in fact,” Laws adds.

For Stuart Laws as for many comedians, Islington represents a highly creative and welcoming environment for the performance of new comedy. “Venues here are a great indication of the kind of place that it is,” Laws says. “The line ups are so diverse, and audiences really put their trust in the comedians to expand their sense of what stand up can be.”

The Journey will run at 7.45pm on the November 22-23. The Pleasance Theatre, Carpenters Mews, N7 9EF.

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