Dead Funny, Vaudeville Theatre, London — evaluation

From left, Steve Pemberton, Emily Berrington and Rufus Jones in ‘Dead Funny’ © Alastair Muir

I have identified for some years that Terry Johnson is a talented director, particularly of dark and clever comedies. Even so, I had never ever just before realised very how precise and gifted he is. In his revival of Dead Funny he can, and frequently does, turn the course of events or the mood of a scene correct around, pivoting on the merest inflection or the most fleeting pause.

It assists, of course, that he knows the play in such detail. Right after all, he wrote it, in 1994, and set it a couple of years earlier in the handful of days when comedians Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd both died. Fan group the Dead Funny Society hold a memorial party for Hill, only to find that the derisory turnout of 5 consists of two couples whose marriages are tested to the extremely point of destruction and a middle-aged man whose coming-out declaration in the midst of almost everything else seems utterly insignificant. The play enjoyed huge good results at the time but has been neglected as regards revivals. In Johnson’s own production, although, it stands revealed as each bit as enjoyable-however-discomfiting as the most mordant mid-period Alan Ayckbourn operate.

He also has a doozy of a cast. Katherine Parkinson is one of Britain’s finest purveyors of deadpan sarcasm. As the comedy dissident Ellie, she drips corrosive, frustrated dissatisfaction from every pore, and the one formal joke she tells is in such negative taste yet so completely delivered that we blush for shame even as we hoot. Rufus Jones as her husband, who requires Norman Wisdom more seriously than his marriage, is nearly as accomplished as Parkinson, despite the fact that his long suit is a sort of banal bombast. Ralf Little’s speciality is being amiably half a step behind, and Emily Berrington merely demands to take herself a small too seriously as the evening disintegrates around her, culminating in an practically totally unforced food fight total with classic custard-pie routines. Steve Pemberton is something but a fifth wheel, starting in major-crucial camp then steadily delving deeper as the tension mounts.

Johnson orchestrates matters into an evening of exquisitely agonising, embarrassing beauty. Thank heaven such a playwright and such a director found every single other, conveniently in the very same physique.

To February four, nimaxtheatres.com/vaudeville-theatre/dead_funny

Section: Arts


The Suicide, National Theatre, London — ‘Some very funny moments’

THE SUICIDE by El-Bushra, , Writer - Suhayla El-Bushra after Erdman, Director - Nadia Fall, Designer - Ben Stones, Lighting Designer - Paule Constable, Video Designer - Andrzej Goulding, Music - Danilo 'DJ' Walde, The National Theatre, London, UK, 2016©Johan Persson

It’s refreshingly various, that’s for certain. The National Theatre requires Nikolai Erdman’s 1928 comedy and refashions it as contemporary satire, in which a single poor sap’s woes become the focal point of a disconsolate, austerity-reduce, hashtag-fixated Britain. It can be entertaining and wise: Suhayla El-Bushra’s script has pith, venom and some very funny moments and Nadia Fall’s staging brings a surreal, jagged, hip-hop style to it, breaking up the action with freeze frames, drum solos and large selfie projections. But it’s also pretty hit-and-miss – it drifts perilously in locations, the style feels uncertain and the cast often struggle to hold the comedy airborne.

Sam Desai (played extremely engagingly by Javone Prince) is in a miserable state: his advantages have been sanctioned, his marriage is turning stale, he lives in a cramped flat with his overworked wife and oversexed mother-in-law. In a moment of despair, he threatens to end it all. That would be the end of it – had some tiny busybody not filmed his howl of pain on a smartphone and flashed it around the globe. Soon Sam has grow to be a lead to célèbre: a host of individuals come smarming by means of his door to persuade him that carrying out himself in would certainly be the ideal thing – for them.

Exactly where the original takes on Stalin’s Russia, El-Bushra brings us a host of modern scourges. There’s the exhausted social worker who wants to use Sam’s demise to protest against cuts to mental wellness solutions, and the would-be councillor who spies a chance to cut them additional. There’s a preening urban poet, a vacuous hipster café owner, a cheating girlfriend and, loudest of all, Patrick: a trustafarian film-maker (Paul Kaye, outrageously vain and funny) who desires to make Sam the symbol of all that is wrong with society. Quickly Sam is getting the time of his life – so lengthy as he promises to finish it at noon.

Behind all the comedy there are of course serious political points: about suicide among young males, about welfare cuts, about a society where even despair can turn into a USP (it’s no accident that the action takes place in the battered Clement Attlee creating and one scene shows Margaret Thatcher busy monetising heaven). There are too a lot of targets and broad caricatures, nonetheless, and the production labours to preserve it all afloat and to sustain the tone. It’s at its greatest on the twitchy solipsism of social media. “I’d strike quickly,” Patrick’s earnest girlfriend (Lizzie Winkler) advises Sam. “Before men and women get bored.”

To June 25, www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

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Section: Arts


Funny Girl, Menier Chocolate Factory, London — ‘Wonderful, but . . .’

Sheridan Smith, centre, in 'Funny Girl'. Photo: Marc Brenner©Marc Brenner

Sheridan Smith, centre, in ‘Funny Girl’. Photo: Marc Brenner

Sheridan Smith is already a British national treasure at the age of 34. A organic comedian on stage and tv and an outstanding musical actress, she has also won an Olivier award for her performance in Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path . She would seem a organic match for the function of Fanny Brice in this revival of the 1964 Jule Styne/Bob Merrill musical about the star of the Ziegfeld Follies and her relationship with gambler Nick Arnstein. But Smith, in Michael Mayer’s production at the Menier Chocolate Factory, somehow doesn’t get there.

It might be the inherent Jewishness of subject and remedy alike: Smith offers us pert when what is necessary is brash. It requires a specific sort of defiant Brooklyn sardonicism to get away with a lyric in a initial world war propaganda quantity like: “I’m by means of and by way of red, white and bluish/I speak this way due to the fact I’m . . . British.” The non-rhyme might be faux-coy, but the obvious “real” rhyme is wholly unapologetic. Similarly, impassioned argument scenes and numbers such as “Don’t Rain on my Parade” need to be belted out, not basically in fidelity to Barbra Streisand, who originated the part on each stage and screen, but since that’s what the material demands. Smith only begins to unleash her complete power on the final couple of bars of “Parade” and its reprise.

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The performers may possibly be reining in due to the fact of the intimate size of the Menier, just before unmuzzling themselves on the show’s transfer to the West Finish next year (which had been announced even ahead of this initial run began, promoting out inside a day). Likewise, it at times feels as if we are right here seeing only the bottom half of Michael Pavelka’s set style.

The show (original functioning title My Man, following one particular of Brice’s signature numbers) has a dual focus: it is about each Brice and Arnstein. It also whitewashes their history together: we see Brice sharing what is in effect her initial kiss with him, when in reality she was already divorced by then, and he is portrayed as a risky wheeler-dealer rather than an outright conman.

Darius Campbell (formerly Danesh) is marvellous at adorning a stage, but he nonetheless can not really act. As Arnstein, his voice is smooth as chocolate, but it is commercial chocolate that most likely wouldn’t meet the EU needs to carry the name. As for Smith, she is by no means much less than wonderful, but this time she’s not very the correct sort of wonderful.

To March five, menierchocolatefactory.com

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Section: Arts