Dead Funny - 1 November 2016 Review

“Laughter is the best medicine” - it's true; laughter is a medicine, a tonic for every bad or difficult situation. Terry Johnson's riotous comedy Dead Funny proves it, on the surface being a laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy, but really showing how laughter is often used as a defence or coping mechanism for everyone involved.

If you weren't around in the 70's, it's unlikely that you'll be familiar with the sketches and jokes scattered throughout the play. This is no way hinders the enjoyment, after all, Benny Hill sketches are funny regardless, and the idea of a Dead Funny Society is massively endearing. There are some jokes that are interestingly cringe-inducing now – when Nick (Ralf Little) dons the “Mr Chow Mein” costume, the entire audience anxiously titters – are we allowed to laugh at these sort of jokes nowadays?

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Even without the array of sketches, Terry Johnson’s writing is over-flowing with witty one-liners, mostly delivered by the fantastically dry Katherine Parkinson as Eleanor. Desperately wanting a baby, she "subjects" her husband to one hour of love-making every Wednesday, much to his chagrin. But when the beloved Benny Hill dies, Wednesday is suddenly taken over by the prospect of a tribute party to the comic hero. It’s a bizarre scenario, but one that provides plenty of laughs.

Katherine Parkinson is the star of the piece, shifting between sardonic comments to genuine, desperate emotion that leaves a lump in your throat. At times it’s quite shocking how quickly laughter descends into pure silence – and it’s a brilliant effect. Parkinson has excellent support from the entire cast; Rufus Jones is wonderfully miserable, Emily Berrington is suitably grating. Steve Pemberton gives a touching performance as Brian, being simultaneously endearing and very, very funny.

Richard Kent’s design provides a perfect backdrop to the piece, with some glass doors allowing for slapstick comedy moments. Johnson’s direction ensures the action is never slow; although it takes some time to get going, the play races along to a side-splitting climax. It’s a real gem in the West End, featuring a stellar comedic cast who are perfectly at home on stage. It's poignant, pertinent and, I’ve got to say, it’s dead funny.

star-rating-4.0

Reviewed by Susannah Rose Martin.
1 November 2016, Vaudeville Theatre