The British have given much to the world of theatre. Aside from Shakespeare, there are Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn to name but two. However, in one particular genre, the Brits are outstanding, although often not fully understood by non-brits, and that is farce. I mention this as one of the finest examples of a farcical play has recently opened in the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre. The play is Dead Funny – a title that is very, very apt.
In a nice suburban middle class house, Eleanor (Katherine Parkinson) is waiting for her husband Richard (Rufus Jones) to return home from a hard day practising specialised medicine. Tonight is a special night. The couple have been having problems and seeing a counsellor who has given them some rather off the wall and, highly embarrassing homework to help rekindle the physical side of their marriage. Unfortunately, just as they are getting down to things, Brian (Steve Pemberton) arrives with the devastating news that Benny Hill has died. This upsets Richard and, as President of the Dead Funny society, he makes arrangements for a party/wake for the comedy genius next week. As well as himself and Brian, Richard will also be joined by his best friend Nick (Ralf Little) and his wife Lisa (Emily Berrington). Eleanor, alas will be out teaching an evening class. On the night of the celebration of Benny’s life and works, things change and the five friends/spouses drink a little too much and talk a great deal more leading to truths, some shocking, some not at all a surprise, being told and lives changing forever.
The first thing to say about Dead Funny is that it is very British and very much of its time and this is a really positive thing. Set in 1992, the play revolves around these characters and their feelings for dead comics brilliantly. Richard Kent’s simple but very tasteful set instantly gives the audience a sense of both time and place and identifies the sort of people Eleanor and Richard are, meaning you aren’t relying too much on the script to bring you up to date. Actually, before moving on, I have to say I loved the curtain that greeted us as we arrived with its television screens showing various comedy legends in their heyday.
The cast of five are magnificent throughout. I especially liked the various comedy tributes – Frankie Howerd, Morecambe and Wise, Benny Hill etc – included in the story and presented beautifully by everyone. It’s difficult to single anyone out but Katherine Parkinson was absolutely fantastic as Eleanor, an exceedingly complex character that, for me, is the ultimate centre of the story. I also loved Ralf Little’s brilliant – and horrendously politically incorrect – impression of a certain Benny Hill character which, through a lovely use of language and its ability to be misinterpreted, had me, rather guiltily, giggling out loud during the second act.
The writing itself is spot on. There are moments of genuine laugh-out-loud humour followed by dialogue which totally wrings out the viewer’s emotions. This is especially true with the character of Eleanor who is doing everything in her power to not only keep her marriage alive but, more importantly for her, provide the baby she so desperately craves. Being both the writer and Director Terry Johnson knows Dead Funny really well and makes fantastic use of both the stage and the abilities of his cast to grab and hold on to an audience making them run the entire gamut of emotions over the course of the show.
To sum up, Dead Funny is a show whose title perfectly describes itself. Talk about doing what it says on the tin, Dead Funny really is that from start to finish. Be warned there is some nudity and bad language but as Kenny Everett used to say, “it’s all done in the best possible taste”. Overall, Dead Funny is simply a wonderful night out seeing great actors, a fine script and reliving some wonderfully happy memories of long gone, but never forgotten comedy greats.
Review by Terry Eastham
Eleanor wants a child. Richard would oblige if he could, but he’s too busy running the Dead Funny Society.
When British comedy heroes Frankie Howerd and Benny Hill turn up their toes in the same week the society gather for a celebration of hilarity and laughter. But Eleanor’s grin masks a grimace.
When your marriage is deader than either Morecambe or Wise it’s hard to see the funny side of things.
Terry Johnson’s “Painfully funny and funnily painful” (The Times) comedy, Dead Funny returns for a strictly limited season with Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, In The Club, Humans), Steve Pemberton (The League of Gentleman, Benidorm, Whitechapel), Ralf Little (The Royle Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, The Cafe), Emily Berrington (The Inbetweeners 2, Humans, 24) and Rufus Jones (W1A, Hunderby, The Casual Vacancy).
404 Strand, London, WC2R 0NH
Age Restrictions: Suitable for ages 15+
Show Opened: 27th Oct 2016
Booking Until: 4th Feb 2017
Contain scenes of a sexual nature and nudity.