In a confused attempt to make us laugh, cry and reminisce all at once, Dead Funny mostly just draws a grimace and a sigh.
Terry Johnson’s revival of his own play, Dead Funny, aims to bring us something between a dedicated homage and a satirical critique of the so-called ‘Golden Era’ of British television comedy. Set in 1992, in the week that saw the deaths of national treasures Benny Hill and Frankie Howard, the play takes us back to what now feels like an unmistakably archaic style of comedy. We follow the grief of the members of the Dead Funny Society as they use empty humour to mask intense dissatisfaction in life and love.
Katherine Parkinson puts in by far the most impressive performance as the sardonic wife of the president of the society, but this is largely thanks to the fact that she has been gifted the only believable role in the play. Her biting sarcasm seems somehow years ahead of the comedy of her peers – Johnson’s point being to ironically showcase her character, Eleanor, as the only one with an actual sense of humour. The rest of the cast, including Rufus Jones as Eleanor’s stiff and repressed husband and Steve Pemberton as the aging and closeted Brian, portrays fairly implausible caricatures of dull characters, although Pemberton does about as well as could be expected with the material given. Emily Berrington’s turn as the vapid new mother, Lisa, is forced and often awkwardly timed.
The most pervasive problem that Dead Funny suffers from is a colossal lack of clarity. It is misguidedly pitched somewhere between being an example of the derivative comedy it satirises and a more philosophical look at comedy from the outside in. From its full frontal nudity, to its mixture of comedic styles, to harrowing personal struggles, to one bizarre and lengthy slapstick fight scene, the audience is left more bemused than amused, and certainly not moved. Perhaps Johnson aims to convince us to find the comedy even in tragedy, but he doesn’t manage to find it here.
|What||Dead Funny, Vaudeville Theatre Review|
|Where||Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, London, WC2R 0NH | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
27 Oct 16 – 04 Feb 17, 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here to book via Culture Whisper and See Tickets|