Dead Funny

Terry Johnson
One for the Road and the Oldham Coliseum
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and touring
(2007)

Production photo

This is a play/comedy/drama – what you will – which asks a lot of its audience as it attempts to take issue with many complicated emotional problems all within the framework of a comedy – a great deal of the comedy relying on the shock effect of unexpected nudity and sex.

Eleanor is forty one, and longing for a baby, but a husband who originally pursued her “with such ardour and such passion” has gone cold and doesn’t even want to touch her. All the same in the first scene, following advice from a sex therapist, she manages to undress him - the sight of a naked man lying on a rug and trying to keep his private parts private while his wife tries to arouse him causing great hilarity among the audience.

Husband Richard (Stephen Pinder) is a prominent member (oops!) of the Dead Funny Society and, hearing of the death of Benny Hill, his priority is to arrange a meeting at his home to pay homage to their idol. Eleanor is not amused. She is bitter, resentful and hurt but, in a very strong and convincing performance by Kerry Peers, she has most of the best lines with entertainingly cutting remarks showing her disdain for the antics of this bunch of anoraks.

The action takes place in Sara Perks’s set of a pleasant comfortable living room in 1992, the skeleton in one corner seeming irrelevant although meant to illustrate Richard’s profession as consultant obstetrician, and there is a plastic torso of a woman which is found to have the heart missing – later discovered broken! Significant!

Without delving too deeply the play tries to cover infidelity, homosexuality, despair, bitterness, misogyny, jealousy – in fact all human emotions and relationships are displayed with a quantity of slapstick comedy thrown in for good measure, custard pies and a large trifle coming in very handy when some dark secrets come into the open. There is even a rift in the society when some members are discovered to have branched out on their own and ‘stolen’ a famous invited guest.

Their homage involves dressing in the style of their favourites and playing out sketches from “the golden age of comedy”. Benny Hill of course takes precedence in an amusing interpretation of his Fred Scuttle by repressed homosexual Brian, beautifully and sympathetically played by Robin Askwith. Morecombe and Wise of course have their turn, as well as almost every comedian from Dan Leno to Frankie Howard, although much of this humour is contained in the tape played before the performance and during the interval – by the originals!

A pleasantly entertaining evening for a drizzly Bank Holiday and the play kept the audience engrossed, but also rather bewildered. With so many issues to contend with, so many directions to follow, it changed tack too often and lost its focus, although the cast could not be faulted with Pinder’s character’s repression by his father, Ben Hull’s cuckolded Nick concerned with his useless sperm count, and his wife Lisa (Samantha Giles) brittle and superficial as the dizzy friend with the psychic headaches foretelling disaster.

As Brian says, “You’ve got to see the funny side – haven’t you!”

Touring to Sheffield, Southend on Sea, Jersey, Birmingham and Brighton.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor