Previewed 5 March 2016, Opened 17 March 2016, Closed 30 April 2016 at the Garrick Theatre in London
The West End premiere of Sean Foley's English adaptation of Francis Veber's The Painkiller in London starring Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon.
Two men. Two hotel rooms. Dudley's wife has just left him and he decides there is only one escape from his pain. Ralph is a smooth easy going hitman, who is in the business of 'pain removal'. When the two men cross paths through an adjoining door between their two hotel rooms chaos ensues. One of them is a killer. One of them wants to die. What could possibly go wrong?
Sean Foley's darkly hilarious adaptation of Francis Veber's classic French farce Le contrat was originally seen at the Belfast Lyric Theatre in 2011, and both Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon are reprisng their roles for this London production.
The cast features Kenneth Branagh as 'Ralph' and Rob Brydon as 'Dudley' with Claudie Blakley as 'Michelle', Alex Macqueen as 'Dr Dent', Mark Hadfield and Marcus Fraser. Directed by Sean Foley with designs by Alice Power, lighting by Tim Mitchell and music and sound by Ben and Max Ringman.
Rob Brydon's West End stage acting credits include Trevor Nunn's revival of Alan Ayckbourn's comedy play A Chorus of Disapproval at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2012. Francis Veber's recent West End plays include the comedy See You Next Tuesday (adapted by Ronald Harwood from Le Diner De Cons) which starred Nigel Havers and Ardal O'Hanlon at the Noel Coward Theatre in 2003. His farce Le contrat has twice been made into a film, in 1973 and 2008, under the title L'emmerdeur (A Pain in the Ass). Sean Foley's West End recent directing credits include the musical I Can't Sing at the London Palladium in 2014 and the comedies Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2013, The Ladykillers at the Gielgud Theatre 2011 and the Vaudeville Theatre in 2013 and What The Butler Saw at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2012. Along with Hamish McColl he starred in Do You Come Here Often? at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1998.
When this production opened here at the Garrick Theatre in March 2016, Neil Norman in The Daily Express hailed it as being "one of the funniest plays on the West End stage at the moment... Sean Foley directs with the precision-tooled timing of a master farceur." Sarah Hemming in The Financial Times wrote: "This is Francis Veber’s farce, adapted from the French by director Sean Foley, and the chief reason to see it is the masterly comic double act of Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon." Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph found that, "in 90 delirious minutes, there is not an opportunity for a gag that is passed up. The two stars are in their element... Further accelerating the madness are Mark Hadfield, who gives a supporting tour de force as the mincing, interfering and bewildered porter, while Alex MacQueen shines as Dudley's loathed rival Dent." Ann Treneman in The Times praised it as being "hilarious... There is nothing subtle about this farce by Francis Veber - it's 90 minutes without an interval, crammed with farcical action, what with the door slamming, guns going off, mistaken identities, shower disasters, trousers up and down... Stylish. Funny. Raucous." Henry Hitchings in The London Evening Standard said that "the play, despite director Sean Foley’s updating, shows its age... but the physical comedy is enjoyably frenetic, and there’s a potent chemistry between the leads." Michael Billington in The Guardian thought that "the plot, with its distinct echoes of The Odd Couple, is a bit strained," though "Sean Foley's direction includes the requisite amount of slammed doors and dropped trousers and, bringing the show in at 90 minutes, is suitably fast and furious. It may not be to everyone’s taste but, in these sombre times, I found the show offered a restorative tonic." Quentin Letts in The Daily Mail highlighted how "Rob Brydon and Kenneth Branagh have a ball... Farce always assumes an inner logic of its own but there are places in this story when that logic almost disappears. If they could pick up the pace a little, it would give audiences less time to notice some of the more far-fetched moments."
"Before long there are just too many middle-aged men running about with their trousers round their ankles, too many flobbly torsos and too much loud, overemphatic acting and straining after laughs, with lines that seem to have been swept up and recycled from the cutting-room floor from an episode of Are You Being Served? Farce has to go with the precision of an atomic clock, but here even the fights are lame... The slapstick is wooden and lumbering, too... The script is often underpowered, and it especially fails to find any real darkness and trauma in this setup of murder and suicide, though it's the darker aspects that make a real farce properly funny... But The Painkiller is too much flab and fluff and flannel, with nowhere near enough sharp edges." The Sunday Times
"Francis Veber’s 1969 play, Le Contrat, was a huge hit in his native France, spawning two film versions and even a Hollywood remake, Billy Wilder’s Buddy Buddy. That film was a flop but Veber has now found his ideal English stage interpreter in adaptor-director Sean Foley, whose The Painkiller is a total delight... For all his reputation as a serious Shakespearian, Branagh is at his best in comedy and, here, he is hilariously deadpan, whether struggling to speak after his sedative or suspecting that the leg he is sitting on has been amputated. Rob Brydon is a perfect foil as the socially inept photographer who mistakes the assassin’s contempt for concern." The Sunday Express
"Presumably, the great advantage of being an actor-manager is that you stage the shows you want, and cast yourself in the roles you want. It’s the only explanation for Sir Ken Branagh stripping to his underpants and revealing his secret Riverdancer in The Painkiller, Francis Veber’s insufficiently amusing farce. Or, rather, Sean Foley’s adaptation of Veber’s Le Contrat from 1969, which Foley also directs... Branagh, one of our finest classical actors, blessed with split-second comic timing, delivers a technically flawless physical performance... Nerdy, flabby, sweaty Brydon, by contrast, is to the farcical manner born, and all the better for his unsuitably skimpy, shiny knickers. But the plot is without tension. No one is in danger of losing their reputation – along with their trousers or their mind – so nothing matters." The Mail on Sunday
"Slapstick is not a word commonly associated with Kenneth Branagh, a chap you imagine likely considers himself an actor with a capital A. Yet here he is; gurning, mincing and silly walking his way through Sean Foley's update of Francis Veber's farce in which a would-be assassin and a would-be suicide find themselves in adjoining hotel rooms. The plot, involving Rob Brydon's estranged wife, her hypodermic syringe-sporting psychiatrist lover and a policeman who gets locked in a cupboard, is not worth wasting column inches on. Suffice to say Branagh's slick-suited assassin and Brydon's loser photographer from Swindon become tangled up in the other's affairs, often in physically compromising ways, much to the bewilderment of Mark Hadfield's deliciously kitsch porter. If doors slammed in faces, syringes slammed into buttocks, and a concussed Branagh talking gobbledygook as he staggers about under the influence of ketamine is your idea of hilarity, then fill your boots. Others might find this old-fashioned farce as creaky as a 1970s sitcom. The best farces possess a deranged logic and a blissful effervescence. In Foley's crudely signposted production, nearly all the gags feel artificially generated, not to mention as heavy as Branagh's rifle, which he has to stuff down the sofa each time someone barges in. It's good to see Branagh letting his hair down, although for Brydon it's business as usual. But this show is too pleased with itself, and at times, acutely painful." The London Metro
The Painkiller in London at the Garrick Theatre previewed from 5 March 2016, opened on 17 March 2016 and closed on 30 April 2016.