Dead Funny: comic drama of a marriage

Photo Credit: Alistair Muir
Everyone laughs at a good joke. And, when people are together, it’s easier to crack a good one, or to mimic friends, sing funny tunes. But in Eleanor’s attempts to grin, there is the veil of sadness and despair.

Terry Johnson first wrote Dead funny in 1994. Today, he directs the production himself, for a limited season on the stage at the Vaudeville Theatre.

This week, I found myself thrown into this so typical British Comedy, a brilliant play on the tragic-comic aspects of a married couple at the end of the 20th century.

Photo Credit: Grace Wordsworth
Eleanor (Katherine Parkinson) suffers from her husband’s physical indifference to her. As an almost-forty-years-old woman, she desires a baby, the golden fulfillment of their lives. Richard (Rufus Jones) blames himself for the disappointing distance he feels.

She tries everything, from sex therapy, to alcohol, in order to overcome the apparent barrier between them and to make things work again.

But in the middle of their confrontation, here it comes the death of Benny Hill. The tragic news calls a reunion of the members of the Dead Funny Club to mourn and remember the deceased comedy hero.

Richard hosts the party/reunion in Eleanor’s house. Brian (Steve Pemberton), and Nick (Ralph Little), with his wife, Lisa (Emily Berrington), gather together, but what expects the guests will not be a simple celebration of laugh and funny stories, as the old times.

I personally found the second act the real funny one and more engaging than the first. Too many 1992-related lines and some excessive gimmicks to set the story – from the slow tone of Lisa, to Eleanor’s extreme alcoholic depression, to the language used – were distracting. So, the first act didn’t live up to my expectations.

As the story unfolds, and all the evident and hidden liaisons appear on the stage, there were misunderstanding, enlightenments, and gags. Less words and more…food entertained the audience in a continuous laugh as the actors chase one another.

Katherine Parkinson worked a lot on the border between hilarity and a veil of depression she introduced us to since the very beginning of the play.
The thread of the drama she was living appeared and disappeared among the jokes and costumes of the reunited members of the Dead Funny society.

Katherine’s interpretation is powerful, and all the cast is brilliant. We have no empty spaces on the stage, no useless pauses during the whole running time: a production full of energy.

Even before the beginning of the show, we have the impression of some sort of crossing between the television and the theatre world. TV screens are projected onto the curtain, playing some clips from the old production of Dead Funny.

And on the stage, the atmosphere becomes lively thanks to the bright colours of the furniture, props, and – as I mentioned earlier – a lot of food.

The story lacks a definite modern twist, but the actors make it a brilliant production. 

Dates: 27 October 2016 - 4 February 2017

Thanks to Theatre Bloggers and Stagedoor for the invite


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