Comedy by Terry Johnson. The death of comedian Benny Hill sets off a chain of events in this exploration of sexual repression, male impotence and the English sense of humour. Eleanor wants what Richard won't give her. Richard wants to be left in peace. Benny would rather rest in peace, but for tonight, at least, his fans won't let him.
Terry Johnson's West End writing credits include Mrs Henderson Presents.
Dead Funny - Original West End Production 1994 / 1995
Opened 6 April 1994, Closed 8 October 1994 at the Vaudeville Theatre
Previewed 19 September 1995, Opened 20 September 1995, Closed 13 January 1996 at the Savoy Theatre
The original Hampstead Theatre's production of Terry Johnson's new comedy Dead Funny returns to London's West End with a new cast following an acclaimed national tour. Winner of 'Best New Play' 1994 Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards.
The original West End cast at the Vaudeville Theatre featured David Haig as 'Richard', Zoe Wanamaker as 'Eleanor', Niall Buggy as 'Brian', Beatie Edney as 'Lisa' and Danny Webb as 'Nick' - who all reprised their roles from the Hampstead Theatre run.
The cast at the West End's Savoy Theatre featured Kevin McNally as 'Richard', Belinda Lang as 'Eleanor', Sam Kelly as 'Brian', Rebecca Lacey as 'Lisa' and Ian Bartholomew as 'Nick'.
Directed by Terry Johnson with designs by Sue Plummer, lighting by Simon Opie and sound by John A Leonard. This production was original seen at the Hampstead Theatre (previewed from 28 January 1994, opened on 2 February 1994 and closed on 26 March 1994).
"In the spring of 1992, Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd died within days of each other and these two deaths frame the play. Richard, chairman of a Dead Comics Society, summons the members to a wake, where Benny Hill specs and a wig are worn, and oft-told jokes ritually repeated. But the play also charts another death, that of Richard's marriage to the long-suffering Ellie. He is a surgeon who thinks nothing of performing five hysterectomies in a day but cannot bring himself to touch his wife, though she is frantic to have a baby before the menopause hits her. The other married couple is also heading for the rocks, and what makes the play so richly satisfying is that Johnson, who also directs, steers the characters towards disaster by way of the same mishaps that are a staple routine in a Carry On film... The dialogue swoops from hilarity to grief, frequently squeezing both into a single line... A first-rate evening." The Times
"Terry Johnson wrote last year's most brilliant play in Hysteria: a work that simultaneously showed Freud as a bit of a fraud and a guilt-ridden tragic figure. Now, in Dead Funny, Johnson has written another dazzlingly equivocal piece: one that questions the dubious sexual values of the great English drolls while invoking their hallowed memories and methods... Johnson has a valid point to make: that the great English comic tradition, as manifested by the innuendo-ridden world of Benny Hill and the campy, Sarah Gamp public persona of Frankie Howerd, masks a sexual chauvinism and panic that rubs off on its aficionados. The fans think they have convened to celebrate 'the joy of simple laughter' but, as the cynical Eleanor constantly points out, they are all victims of arrested development. But Johnson's play is not a po-faced lecture: its great virtue is that it both criticises and exploits the English comic tradition... The result: an exhilarating play that is part custard-pie tragedy, part inquiring elegy for a vanishing music-hall tradition based on the principle that a dirty mind is a joy for ever." The Guardian
Dead Funny in London at the Savoy Theatre previewed from 19 September 1995, opened on 20 September 1995 and closed on 13 January 1996
Dead Funny - 1st West End Revival 2016
Previewed 27 October 2016, Opened 3 November 2016, Closed 4 February 2017 at the Vaudeville Theatre in London
A major revival of Terry Johnson's comedy Dead Funny in London starring Katherine Parkinson, Steve Pemberton and Ralf Little for a strictly limited season
The cast features Katherine Parkinson as 'Eleanor', Steve Pemberton as 'Brian' and Ralf Little as 'Nick' with Emily Berrington as 'Lisa' and Rufus Jones as 'Richard'. Directed by Terry Johnson with designs by Richard Kent, lighting by and sound by John Leonard. PLEASE NOTE: The age recommendation for this production is 15 and above due to nudity and scenes of a sexual nature.
When this production opened at the Vaudeville Theatre in November 2016, Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph highlighted that "the evening is by turns funny and painful - sometimes both at once, with Terry Johnson effortlessly slipping between gears so that a send-up of a 'tribute' also serves as a perfectly crafted homage to the gagsmiths of old. Assisted by sundry skeletons tumbling out of closets, this deft anatomy of marriage and mirth climaxes in a melee of uproarious slapstick." Michael Billington in the Guardian explained that "comedy may have changed radically since Terry Johnson wrote the play, but it still holds a disturbing mirror up to all those of us who worship at the shrine of dead comics." Dominic Maxwell in the Times said it offers "a strange but increasingly compelling mix of laughs and emotional laceration. One that ends in a triumphant appropriation of the devices of slapstick; custard pies end on faces amid the wreckages of two marriages and one comedy appreciation society." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times commented that "in Terry Johnson's own production it stands revealed as every bit as enjoyable-yet-discomfiting as the most mordant mid-period Alan Ayckbourn work... Johnson orchestrates matters into an evening of exquisitely agonising, embarrassing beauty. Thank heaven such a playwright and such a director found each other, conveniently in the same body." Neil Norman in the Daily Express praised how "the combination of wit, physical comedy and nostalgic sketches results in a comic cocktail laced with cyanide. A sterling cast all unpack their characters while maintaining the humour." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail described it as an "engaging and daring adult comedy... Sophisticates will baulk at some of the lines, but grown-up couples looking for an uncomplicated yet thoughtful farce may well like it. And it has a nicely rueful British ending." Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard said that it's "a play that 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." adding that "the truth and honesty of Parkinson’s performance shine through."
Katherine Parkinson's West End credits include Jeremy Herrin's revival of Alan Ayckbourn's play Absent Friends at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2012. Steve Pemberton's London stage credits include The League of Gentlemen: A Local Show For Local People at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2001 and being in the closing cast of Matthew Warchus' original staging of Yasmina Reza's comedy Art at the Whitehall Theatre (Trafalgar Studios) in 2003. Ralf Little's credits include Jennie Darnell's staging of Nigel Planer's debut play On the Ceiling at the Garrick Theatre in 2005. Terry Johnson's recent West End credits include Mrs Henderson Presents at the Noel Coward Theatre in 2016 and Hitchcock Blonde at the Royal Court then Lyric Theatre in 2003.
"Terry Johnson does not always sustain the delicate balance between the Strindbergian pain and the comic stereotypes. The first act, in particular, has its longueurs and the recreated routines outstay their welcome. But as mayhem mounts he brilliantly shows how the various characters use comedy as an escape, a defence and a release. Johnson himself directs with all the assurance missing from his recent production of The Libertine. He draws excellent work from the entire cast, in particular Katherine Parkinson as Eleanor, desperate for her husband's affection and the chance of motherhood, and Steve Pemberton as Brian, bracing himself for a personal revelation." The Sunday Express
"Grim funny is more like it. Terry Johnson's 1994 comedy reminds us that a classic sitcom living room — sofas, cushions, drinks trolley - is also a wasteland of human misery. Toxic marriages, screwed-up sexuality, disappointment and betrayal: the core elements of any good joke... In Johnson's deliberate production, the smirking apparatus of trad comedy (slapstick, innuendo and adultery) thread through the evening with painful ect: you hear the audience wince and gasp as much as snigger. And Chekhov's first rule of comedy — if a custard pie appears on stage, it will be splattered before curtain call — is triumphantly upheld." The Sunday Times
"The humour here is either double entendres or the deadly irony of the only genuinely witty character, Ellie, who rightly points out that her husband Richard wouldn't 'recognise a joke if it didn't have its trousers round its ankles'. The real concerns, though, are two dying marriages... Ellie is desperate for a baby and dull Richard, an obstetrician, refuses to touch her. Katherine Parkinson's heartbroken, blistering Ellie is devastating. Her grief and pain remain timeless in a play where too much of the comedy has had its day." The Mail on Sunday
Dead Funny in London at the Vaudeville Theatre previewed from 27 October 2016, opened on 3 November 2016 and closed on 4 February 2017.