Dead Funny – A Step Back in Time at the Vaudeville:
I was hit with a warm sense of nostalgia on entering the theatre, we were welcomed to 1992, the set was a comfortable, period living room and up on screens were images of a series of iconic comedians including Frankie Howard, Tommy Cooper, Hattie Jacques, Tony Hancock and Morecambe and Wise.
This remarkably funny, and at times poignantly sad revival of Terry Johnson’s play, written in 1994 introduces us to Richard, (a very funny Rufus Jones, known most recently for BBC’s W1A) a consultant obstetrician and his wife Ellie, (Katherine Parkinson, familiar to many from TV roles including Doc Martin, Humans and The IT Crowd). Parkinson gives a hilarious, yet painfully astute performance as the wife struggling to come to terms with her childlessness and her failing marriage.
The opening scene explores an attempt to rekindle the couples flailing sex life with the help of sex therapy. Traditional farcical devices are used to give the audience an uncomfortable, but thoroughly amusing insight into their personal sexual failures only to be interrupted by Brian, who is beautifully portrayed by Steve Pemberton. Brian is a bit of a social misfit, a fellow member of the Dead Funny Society who arrives to announce the death of Benny Hill, much to Ellie’s dismay.
Ellie has been babysitting for couple Nick, (Ralf Little, known for Royal Family and Two Pints of Lager and a packet of Crisps)) a teacher, and his wife Lisa (Emily Berrington of Humans and Inbetweeners fame) who have a new baby, Ellie has been playing mum to the baby she hopelessly desires. All, bar Ellie are members of the Dead Funny Society and regularly come together to share their love of comedians of the era, reminiscing and partaking in impersonations. Tonight they have come together to mourn the passing of Benny Hill.
The second half quickly uncovers both of the deeply flawed marriages, and the loss of respect all round. Richard is having an affair with Lisa, Brian has a secret to tell and all this is revealed in a farcical, slapstick form, not without the traditional custard pies, which has the audience in roaring with laughter.
I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed the universal humour of Johnson’s play. There were some great performances, however, I was especially struck by the underpinning of tragedy in Ellie’s comical, yet manic behaviour, portraying a rueful and broken woman, longing for the physical attentions of her husband, but ultimately a child.
Dead Funny is showing at:
404 Strand, London
until 4 February. Box office: 0330-333 4814.