This reboot of Terry Johnson’s 1994 play lives up to its name

Photos Alasdair Muir & Grace Wordsworth

Dead Funny - credit Grace Wordsworth

‘When your marriage is deader than either Morecambe or Wise it's hard to see the funny side of things.’ So proclaims the programme synopsis of Dead Funny, Terry Johnson’s 1994 black comedy that explores the relationship between unhappy husband and wife Richard and Eleanor as they struggle to conceive. Yet this is also one of the funniest plays I’ve seen in ages. That it’s been hidden away since the 90s is astonishing.

Dead Funny - credit Grace Wordsworth

The play is set in April 1992 – specifically, the week that both Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd pop their clogs. As chairman of the Dead Funny Society, a club that celebrates deceased comedians, Richard (Rufus Jones) decides to organise a farewell fancy dress party. Eleanor (played fabulously by Katherine Parkinson) is a dead presence, void of all humour other than sarcasm as she pours herself endless martinis. Yet she also has the best one-liners, always biting and often laden with innuendo.

As the party gets into full swing, tensions flare between the five characters and secrets are revealed. Cracks also appear in the seemingly perfect marriage of Jack-the-lad Nick (Ralf Little) and the smug Lisa (Emily Berrington). The bumbling Brian, played brilliantly by Steve Pemberton, is a joy to watch as he tries to smooth over the chaos around him, constantly switching from camp and conspiratorial to lonely and downtrodden.

Dead Funny - credit Grace Wordsworth

Yet humour is ever-present, whether it’s through slapstick (custard pies are thrown) or wit, watched from behind hands (there’s an excruciating sex scene) or by way of the impressions that the society recites in Benny Hill’s honour. Away from the cutting poignancy at the heart of the production, this play truly lives up to its name. I’m already dying to see it again.

Until: 4 February 2017
Hospitality: Drinks can be organised in the dress circle bar for pre- and mid-show entertainment.
Eat & drink: Eneko at One Aldwych, The Savoy Grill, Simpsons-in-the-Strand