Despite some people wanting to consign farce to the theatrical history books and trying to convince us that tastes have changed, there’s no doubting that it can still get an audience rocking with laughter when it’s done well. And this revival of Terry Johnson’s 1994 comedy is done very well indeed.
As events spiral out of control ever more frantically (there’s even a pie fight), Johnson pulls off the wonderful coup of seamlessly blending in an achingly poignant portrait of a marriage in crisis. He also pushes the comedy envelope with some ripe language and a wincingly painful, but hilarious, nude scene that you’ll probably watch through your fingers.
Katherine Parkinson, Steve Pemberton, Rufus Jones, Emily Berrington and Ralf Little (photos by Alistair Muir)
It’s 1992 and the death of Benny Hill has just been announced – a seismic event in the life of Richard (Rufus Jones), who is chairman of the Dead Funny Society, an organisation that champions TV comedy. But Richard’s dedication to fandom leaves his wife Eleanor (Katherine Parkinson) feeling abandoned. Desperate for a child and some physical attention, she retreats more and more often to the bottom of a bottle. It’s outstandingly played by Parkinson, who gets in some comic zingers while at the same time tugging at our heartstrings.
Johnson’s play, which he also directs, is also a wonderful tribute to the golden age of British TV comics: Frankie Howerd, Morecambe & Wise, Tony Hancock et al. Richard likes nothing better than to recreate his heroes’ classic routines with his friends — superbly performed by Steve Pemberton, Ralf Little and Emily Berrington (displaying some neat comedy chops far removed from her character in Humans). Little and Jones do a very passable impersonation of Morecambe & Wise.
Lives unravel, secrets are revealed, and people are left broken in this perfectly crafted tour-de-force that will move you as much as it makes you laugh.
Dead Funny is at the Vaudeville Theatre until 4 February