Dead Funny by Terry Johnson with Katherine Parkinson: the play you will never expect but will enjoy thoroughly
Yesterday I went to the Vaudeville theatre to see a play called Dead Funny. I had found it on the TodayTix app and didn’t really know what it was, except that it was said to be funny. I love funny. So I took a ticket and went there for the matinee, at 2.30pm. It was nothing I could ever expect from a theater play but I di enjoy it extremely much nevertheless and do strongly advise it.
The name of the play, Dead Funny, comes from the Dead Funny Society, a group of people who share a common interest about dead humorists. The play opens on the house of Eleanor and Richard. Eleanor would very much like a child, but her husband, apparently, would very much like not to touch her. Ever. Then comes Brian, bearer of insufferable news for the Dead Society: Benny Hill died. This actually sets the tone of everything funny in the play. If you don’t enjoy Benny Hill’s (or his contemporaries) humour, then you might not like Dead Funny. Otherwise, you’ll definitely have a blast. I don’t want to say more about the play because I think it’s better if you don’t really know what to expect. I didn’t. If I did, I probably would have gone anyway. But some people might decide otherwise if they knew what was coming at them, and that would be a shame.
In the original version of the Terry Johnson play, which happened in 1994 and won a few awards (Writers Guild Award for the Best West End Play, Drama Critics Circle for Best Play, Lloyds Private Banking Playwright of the Year and Time Out Drama Award, all in 1994), the main character, Eleanor, was played by Zoë Wanamaker. Today, it is revived by the exquisite and always very accurate Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, The Boat that Rocked). And the four other roles are brilliantly played by 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).
The Times called Terry Johnson’s new Dead Funny “painfully funny and funnily painful”. It couldn’t be more exact. Throughout the play, the five characters evoke various important subjects, amongst which the effect of a disastrous sex life on a couple, the importance of loyalty in friendship, truth and honesty in any relationship, and all together what makes a person stand alive or be on the edge of distress and perdition. All those might make for a gloomy play but the constant presence of Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd and company lifts up the morale and will keep you laughing and empathize with all characters. Expect a lot of fun and not to have ever expected whatever will happen in there. But if you’re looking for something slightly different, amazing settings and costumes, magnificent emotions, lots of laughter and great acting, book a ticket without thinking twice.