With a handful of contemporary comedy stars at the helm, Dead Funny was the perfect play to see during Halloween week. Centred around a society celebrating the works of dead comedians, Dead Funny throws in old school comedy gags alongside witty, dark humour.
Despite first being performed in 1994, Terry Johnson’s script doesn’t feel tired or dated but rather a loving homage not only to comedians such as Benny Hill and Morecambe and Wise but also to the comedy geeks that keep the laughs of the historic greats alive. We are transported back to 1992 with the help of a CRT TV, a relationship therapist on VHS and some retro M&S shopping bags.
The Dead Funny Society recount and re-enact old sketches, and celebrate their favourite jokes under the chairmanship of Richard (Rufus Jones), whilst his wife Eleanor (Katherine Parkinson) desperately tries to keep their marriage afloat, and gently persuade her distant husband to have a child, whilst he dismisses her as humourless. When Benny Hill dies we are introduced to the other members of the society as they all appear in Eleanor and Richard’s living room; Steve Pemberton as the bumbling anorak Brian delivers the news brimming with thrill as well as sadness and new parents played by Ralf Little and Emily Berrington arrive to join in.
Johnson’s script pushes the two marriages to the brink of collapse, and hints at various comedy tropes in doing so. The witty back and forth, word play, slapstick and elements of farce are all delivered to perfection by a cast well versed in comedy. The stand out performances come from the two characters offered the most emotional vulnerability within the play; Katherine Parkinson as Eleanor and Steve Pemberton as Brian deliver tragedy and comedy in equal measure and despite all the laughs in this genuinely hilarious show, I found myself fighting back a tear at a tender moment between the two.
Hilarious, moving and full of morbid humour, Dead Funny is not to be missed and is a fantastic opportunity to see some of the best comedy performers of this generation live on stage. Be warned, if you’re seated in the front couple of rows could be in the splash zone!
Dead Funny is booking until 4 February at the Vaudeville Theatre, London