★★★★☆ Vaudeville Theatre, Dead Funny
Terry Johnson wrote and directed an homage to comedians Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper and co. while reflecting their not so funny private lives in a laugh-out-loud spectacle.
It’s 1992, everything’s a laugh. Richard is the President of the Dead Funny society and for him and his friends, Lisa (Emily Berrington), Nick (Ralf Little) and Brian (Steve Pemberton) nothing could be better than slipping famous routines of their favorite comedians into their lives and society meetings. All could be great if it wasn’t for Katherine Parkinson’s character, Eleanor (the star of the show) ruining their meeting with her cynical attitude and always infuriatingly funny, snappy and belittling comments towards her husband’s and friends’ obsessive love for dead comedians.
She’s unhappy and struggling with her own life, but she wants a baby. Desperately. All she can think about is getting pregnant and sleeping with her husband, who is pre-occupied with his own internal battles. It’s clear from the beginning that he feels rather uncomfortable in her presence and tries to avoid physical contact with her.
Their long-term friend Brian adds to the comedic value of the show. He seems to have the talent of always turning up at the wrong time or the perfect time, depending on who’s side your on. His somehow innocent characteristics makes him immediately likable.
It almost seems like you’re watching two plays at the same time. One about a struggling relationship and the other a satirical play on dead comedians, and their long-term admirers who have created the society.
Those collide when Benny Hill dies and the society holds a honorary meeting at Eleanor’s and Richard’s house.
However, if you’re unfamiliar with all these comedians, many jokes and anecdotes might easily be missed. What makes this play so funny is the mix of the cynical and admiration of old comedians and the clash of two different worlds.
The climax happens when secrets are uncovered and pies fly into faces. It’s a perfect way to celebrate iconic and traditional English comedy.