Review: Dead Funny at the Vaudeville Theatre

Dead Funny is the perfect antidote to the current political climate – but it’s also so much more than just simple escapism.

Written by the magnificent Terry Johnson, Dead Funny harks back to a simpler era; but while it might seem on the surface an easier time, the story itself is multi-layered, darkly comic and full of gorgeously executed moments of pathos.

The play focuses on unhappily married couple Ellie (Katherine Parkinson) and Richard (Rufus Jones). Ellie yearns for a baby, but Richard isn’t interested the intimacies of a sexual relationship.

Instead, all of Richard’s energy goes into his role as the chairman of the local comedy-appreciation club, which is currently reeling from the death of the iconic Benny Hill.

A “bit of do” to celebrate the passing of one of the group’s heroes is organised, resulting in a farcical climax to the play; it is here where secrets, lies and the dark truths about the society members’ lives bubble to the surface.

Johnson’s script is thoroughly entertaining, creating a laugh-out-loud production that cleverly weaves the low-brow worship of ‘70s TV acts with devastating depiction of a loveless marriage at breaking point.

The cast are all on top form. Ralf Little as Nick and Emily Berrington as Lisa are perfect foils to Richard and Ellie, while Steve Pemberton as Brian completes a magnificent ensemble piece.

Pemberton and Parkinson are particularly wonderful– especially during the final scenes of the play, which reveal a more subtle, emotional side to their characters.

Ultimately, the beauty of this play lies in some wonderful moments delivered by the expert comic timing from this incredible cast (Ralph Little in full-on Benny Hill Chinaman-mode is especially glorious); but the true brilliance of the play lies in its ability to use stereotypes, classic comedy and old-fashioned humour to expose hollow unhappiness of modern-day life.

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