Reviews round-up: Dead Funny at the Vaudeville Theatre

A reviews round-up for Dead Funny at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Terry Johnson’s award winning comedy Dead Funny returns to the West End in a much anticipated revival starring Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Humans), Steve Pemberton (The League of Gentleman, Benidorm), Ralf Little (The Royle Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps), Emily Berrington (Humans) and Rufus Jones (W1A, The Casual Vacancy).

Johnson’s revival of his own play receives a unanimous four-stars with Katherine Parkinson’s hilarious performance as the neglected put-upon wife being the stand-out performance. Admittedly Parkinson does get all the best gags none more so when she is goaded into telling a joke. Steve Pemberton’s closeted camp Brian and Rufus Jones who admirably bares all are also lauded for their performances.

As with any modern-comedy pushing twenty years; times, sensibilities and comedy has changed but this production still manages to have the audience laughing even when the situation is both painful and truly funny.

Here’s a review round-up from The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, The Stage, Independent, TimeOut and the Evening Standard.

Dead Funny runs until 4 February 2017 at the Vaudeville Theatre.


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Average rating score for this production


"Katherine Parkinson is hilarious. Johnson's classic brings laughs with a lump in the throat.

As on its first run in 1994, Johnson directs the play himself. He gets an outstanding performance from Katherine Parkinson as the neglected Ellie. She is hilariously funny in the opening scene where, following the advice of a sex manual, her hand hovers over her naked husband’s inert penis like a nervous butterfly. Yet Parkinson also conveys, through her rueful countenance, the sadness and desperation of a woman driven to the edge of madness by her husband’s physical indifference. Parkinson even brings out the play’s final irony, which is that Ellie, while despising the Dead Funny Society’s anoraks, is the only one with a sense of humour.

The other performances are perfectly good. Rufus Jones as Richard exhibits all the stiffness, except where it really matters, of a man for whom comedy is a matter of mechanistic routines. Ralf Little as Nick suggests laughter is a defence against his own inadequacies and Emily Berrington as Lisa exudes the smugness of the young mother in a childless gang. Meanwhile, Steve Pemberton as Brian has the pathos of a bloke who assumes a hetero roguishness that fools no one except himself."

Michael Billington, The Guardian

"Dead Funny is a perfectly crafted homage to the farcical gagsmiths of old.

The evening is by turns funny and painful – sometimes both at once, Johnson effortlessly (if overtly) slipping between gears so that a send-up of the “tribute” instinct also serves as a perfectly crafted homage to the gagsmiths of old (but nodding, necessarily, to their casual chauvinism and racism too).

There are droll, nicely pitched performances from Ralf Little as narky science-teacher Nick and Emily Berrington (who appears, like Parkinson, on sci-fi series Humans) as his bimbo, putatively clairvoyant wife Lisa. But Parkinson – last seen in the West End in a similar role of marital anguish in Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends – wins the principal plaudits as the funniest (though no one notices) and saddest (though no one notices) person in the room."

Dominic Maxwell, Daily Telegraph

"Dead impressive. Katherine Parkinson and Steve Pemberton are terrific. Terry Johnson's strongly cast revival of his 1994 play confirms its status as a modern classic. The piece is painfully funny and shrewd as it dramatises its central irony: Eleanor, patronised as humourless by her husband and unable to see the point of the society, is the only person on stage with any real wit. “Neither of you would recognise a joke if it didn't have its trousers round its ankles,” she tells Rufus Jones’s smug, pompous Richard and his chum." Paul Taylor, Independent

"As a portrait of a failing marriage, it’s pretty brutal stuff. Katherine Parkinson and Rufus Jones play it with a deadly conviction that is painful to watch, in the vein of period Alan Ayckbourn, to which the writing owes a debt. But Johnson loads it with a raft of deeply affectionate comic impersonations, a tender portrait of friendship and eventually outright pie-in-the-face farce which keeps it buoyant. Under the writer’s own direction, the production skilfully walks a fine line between hilarity and emotional exposure. There are also poignant, pertinent performances from Ralf Little and Emily Berrington as a couple struggling with the challenges of a new baby, and an especially moving portrayal by Steve Pemberton of a lonely single man with a secret of his own." Mark Shenton, The Stage

"Terry Johnson's '90s comedy still feels fresh. Custard pies and celibacy. Slapstick and no tickle. We've all heard about the tears and private pain of the post-war British clowns who still had one foot in the music hall and entertained the country via the new medium of TV.   Dead Funny’ reminds us of these icons and their hold on our imagination. It’s a funny, energetic farce with proper emotional foundations. Both very funny and pointedly sad, 'Dead Funny' explores how laughs and jokes and jibes can be masks – veils that allow us to sidestep looking seriously at our own lives or even properly living them. That all might sound a bit serious, and there’s much to chew on here. But this is no dry, po-faced look at comedy. Johnson directs this West End revival of his own play and turns in a brilliantly timed, often hilarious and lively production that's also poignant." David Calhoun, TimeOut

"In the gathering gloom of a dark autumn, we could all do with a good comedy to cheer us up and there can be no doubting that Terry Johnson’s Dead Funny (1994) is a very good comedy. It’s also a play that, in the midst of loving homages to the 20th century greats of British comedy, goes to some very dark and bitter places, expertly steered by the extraordinarily fine Katherine Parkinson. She heads a strong comic cast, which also includes Steve Pemberton and Ralf Little. In the midst of the laughter, which comes thick and fast in Johnson’s own production even during a first scene of searing sexual discomfort between Richard and Eleanor, there are strong and pertinent points made about the ease with which the emotionally insecure can take refuge in comedy – or any other hobby – rather than make meaningful connections with the people in their lives. Some of the jokes and gender politics seem antediluvian now; was 1992 really as backward-looking as that? Eleanor is much-wronged, but the truth and honesty of Parkinson’s performance shine through." Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard

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