Monday, 18 March 2013

Dead Funny by Terry Johnson - a reflection.

Playing Nick in the Lace Market Theatre's production was a hoot from start to finish with some superb direction from the director Pat Richards.


At the time of rehearsals we pondered whether Dead Funny will work quite as well, decades down the line, as the bygone comics like Benny Hill and Frankie Howard fade from memory, but written against this tale of collective obsession and of crumbling marriages we did find it very, very funny. It was particularly funny at one rehearsal up in the top room of the theatre when Dave Bilton was doing his opening 'naked' scene with Beverley Saint as his frustrated stage wife and a potential new member was being shown the building and ended up being shown a naked man stretched over four chairs with his stage wife kneeling before him! We think she joined.

Set in Easter 1992, Terry Johnson’s tragi-comedy centres on a group of hero-worshipping neighbours, fixated on British comedians of music-hall tradition. Benny Hill has just died and the dwindling numbers of the Dead Funny Society prepare a wake. Gynaecologist Richard (Dave Bilton) is as indifferent to his wife Eleanor’s obsession to give birth as she is to his with dead comics. The unease of their relationship and that of other relationships is implicit throughout the play. Brian comes to tell Richard, as the chairman of the Dead Funny Society of the death of Benny Hill and he interrupts a painfully comical attempt at sexual massage.

Brian and Richard decide to hold a celebration of Benny's life the following Wednesday and invite the other members of the Society. As the party progresses the mood darkens as the tension and revelations of the various relationships come to light. Custard pies and sausage rolls are thrown and I got to empty a bowl of trifle over Dave's head every night! All this in reaction to finding out that my baby is not my baby at all but fathered by Richard.

Another unlikely catalyst is the gentle neighbour Brian who 'comes out' during the evening's entertainment and was a superb performance of inner pain coupled with superb comic timing by Malcolm Wilson in the Lace Market production in November 1999.

It is an hilarious comedy, needs brilliant comic timing, the ability of the cast to recreate classic comedy sketches and participate in frantic custard pie fights as the tragedy unfolds. Plus a great backstage crew adept and cleaning up the mess every night. As the main thrower of food stuffs I was told to be very careful not to get any on the borrowed furniture. The medical torso was hired for £23.50 for three weeks.


I particularly enjoyed the scenes during the 'Dead Comedians' celebrations where we performed the comic sketches like Morecambe and Wise's “Boom -ooh – ya -ta-ta”, the 'in the box' sketch of Jimmy James and the impersonations of Frankie Howard, Max Miller and Tony Hancock. I remember that we worked very hard at the comic timing including some word rehearsals at Dave's house at the latter stages. Great fun!

Review from Philip Ball (Nottingham Evening Post)

Darker side of comedy

Dead Funny
Lace Market Theatre
Philip Ball

Pat Richards has brought together a hard working cast to provide the impersonation needed to carry Terry Johnson's play.

They are all members of the Dead Funny Society who gather together in homage to the legendary Benny Hill, Frankie Howard, Jimmy James and Morecambe and Wise. The comic routines are brilliantly done but Dead Funny has a deeper and sharper tone.

Adult audiences will not be disappointed as observations on sexual attitudes are explored with wit and perception. The cast run through familiar routines whilst conveying the angst between their characters.

Malcolm Wilkinson has the best lines as Brian on the edge of the divided relationships between Richard (Dave Bilton), and Ellie (Beverley Saint) Nick (Phil Lowe) and Lisa (Melanie Gallie).

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