Dead Funny at the Vaudeville Theatre
Much has been made of the “curse” of 2016, a year that, with two months yet remaining, is already notorious for the unusually high number of stars from the world of entertainment that have shuffled off this mortal coil. A similar period in the early 90s, during which British fans bid a final goodbye to some of the brightest lights from the golden age of television and variety comedy, is the inspiration for Terry Johnson’s Dead Funny, returning to the Vaudeville Theatre, home of its original 1994 West End run, with a stellar cast in tow.
Rufus Jones (Hunderby, W1A) plays Richard, chairman of “The Dead Funny Society”, a nerdy collective of classic comedy fans whose primary function increasingly seems to be to memorialise their idols as they slip from the screen. Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Humans) stars as his wife Ellie, who only wishes that he’d show as much passion for her as he does for Morecambe and Wise. The death of Benny Hill is the trigger for a series of events that disrupts their uneasy equilibrium of daytime boozing and sexual relationship counselling and turns their living room into the stage for a darkly comic cavalcade featuring fellow society members Brian (Steve Pemberton of The League of Gentleman), Nick (The Royle Family’s Ralf Little), and Lisa (Emily Berrington, star of Humans and 24).
As is fitting for what is, on one level, a love letter to the heroes of a bygone era of comedy, Dead Funny benefits from first-rate performances from some bona fide stars of the present generation. Pemberton expertly embodies the knockaround humour that his character so loves, and Parkinson, charged with the play’s tragic heart, cuts through the goofiness with a masterclass in sardonic exasperation.
While it’s true that the story is a little clichéd, and that some of the bigger laughs come from beyond the grave via Frankie Howerd, Tommy Cooper, and Co (with Little’s Max Miller impression a highlight), there is genuine elegance to the way that the domestic drama builds to high farce worthy of such company.
A modern comedy classic with a hugely talented cast, Dead Funny is dead easy to recommend.
Photos: Alistair Muir
Dead Funny is at Vaudeville Theatre from 27th October 2016 until 4th February 2017. Book your tickets here.