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!
With only days left until the end of its run there is just time to catch The Go-Between at the Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue. Although many will book solely on the strength of Michael Crawford’s presence in the West End, it offers so much more than that – great though it is to see him, especially as he’s on stage pretty much throughout.
Crawford is Leo Colton, a man haunted by events one childhood summer when he found himself acting as go-between for beautiful upper-class Marian (Gemma Sutton) and tenant farmer Ted (Stuart Ward). These events are played out in front of him on a moody and imposing single-set stage with music provided by an on-stage piano. So, very far from the spectacular musicals in which Crawford established himself. But the lack of spectacle is more than made up for in the intimacy and intensity of the characters and story. It achieves that rare thing to which all theatre surely strives – transporting the audience completely into the events and emotions with the performers.
Crawford re-lives the joys and stresses of that summer both when he is centre stage but also, and perhaps most tellingly, when he is simply a bystander to his own past, watching the action. Crawford knows he is a star presence and uses that, so even in those moments where his past life is being acted out by others his being on the stage adds to rather than detracts from the action.
Equally compelling was young Leo, at this performance played with grace and confidence by Luka Green. He has a very physical role, allowing himself to be picked-up and carried about the stage in a several of the musical numbers. Equally engaging was Samuel Menhinick as his best friend Marcus.
So by all means go because you want to see one of our greatest stars of musical theatre, but come away having been taken with him back to a magical and significant long-gone summer.
The Go-Between is at The Apollo theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue until 15 October 2016. Tickets and further information available at http://thegobetweenmusical.com
The plot of Kinky Boots treads a well-worn path: our hero, Charlie Price (David Hunter) struggles, gets help from an unlikely source in the shape of Lola/Simon (Matt Henry), achieves success and finds true love. But Cyndy Lauper’s award winning show feels constantly fresh and original despite this traditional motif. Unlike many Broadway musicals, the score’s heritage is 80s pop and wears this badge proudly – no harking back to musical cliches we’ve heard before here. True, it’s hard to find a tune you’d be singing as you emerge onto the Strand. But somehow, in the moment, this doesn’t matter. Perhaps it’s the sheer energy and commitment in the performance that overcomes this.
The story follows (sometimes line for line) that of the original film. How can Charlie turn round the shoe business left to him by his father? His fiancé is all for walking away. But Charlie encounters drag queen Lola and becomes convinced that the apparently niche market for ‘kinky’ boots strong enough to be worn by male drag artistes is enough to sustain a business.
There’s also the matter of the absence of a real antagonist. Charlie is battling the dubious inheritance of his father in his attempts to build a successful shoe factory. But he is fighting an anonymous enemy in the shape of changing tastes and foreign competition. We are offered a pantomime villain in the shape of boorish employee Don who has a closed-minded view of Lola and all she stands for. And of course this show is not about boots but about accepting people for who they are and accepting yourself for who you are. The message is laid on thick but with such warmth and glitz that you’re easily persuaded to forgive any shortcomings.
Sticking with its pantomime references, the show concludes with a fashion show which includes the traditional walk-down of ever more outrageous costumes. But by this point the entire audience has been successfully and willingly manipulated into a frenzy of enthusiasm and adoration for Charlie and Lola and all they stand for, proving that there truly is no business like shoe business.