Farce can usually quite hit and miss depending on who you are. Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite what could be classed as ‘easy laughs,’ Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon give fantastic performances throughout The Painkiller, leading the audience (and myself, of course) to laugh a great deal.
The Painkiller is adapted by Sean Foley from a classic 1969 French farce, Le Contrat, by Francis Veber. The play seems quite fair to the definition of farce; well a dark farce at the very least. It takes serious matters such as suicide, the breakdown of marriage, murder and all forms of pain, and manages to make it all as ridiculous and hilarious as possible. It’s important to say at this point that they do not trivialise these subjects in any way at all. As a classic farce, there are many moments of misconstrued situations and the physical comedy is on point throughout the performance.
The simple premise for the play allows for all the hilarity to ensue. Ralph (or John for most of the play), played by Kenneth Branagh, is a professional hitman and his next door neighbour is Brian, Rob Brydon, a photographer whose wife has left him, pushing him to the brink of suicide. The pair find themselves in adjoining hotel rooms. Ralph’s room overlooks a courthouse where his target is meant to appear later that day. Brian is also there to ‘shoot’ the criminal but with a camera rather than a gun. Thanks to an increasingly twitchy and nervous hotel porter, Ralph is entrusted with the responsibility of keeping Brian from committing suicide, which of course takes a absurd turn of events for them both.
Foley and Branagh have said that they gave Brian’s wife, Michelle a greater role since the show was first presented at the Lyric in Belfast and quite rightly too. Claudie Blakley gives the small role complete justice and great comic timing, but unfortunately, falls just short of fitting in with the ridiculousness of the other characters.
The porter who brings the two men together is played by Mark Hadfield, as the hilarity pursues – he becomes more and more flustered and always leaves with an increasingly nervous “Enjoy!”. The farce continues to gain momentum, as everyone who enters the room becomes victim to the absurdity as psychiatrist Dr Dent (Alex McQueen) and a police man (Marcus Fraser) soon find out.
Of course, Branagh and Brydon completely steal the spotlight. We know that comedian Rob Brydon knows his way around a comedy but the pair prove to be all-rounders. Together they show that with two such great talents combined, even the most ridiculous performances can be outstanding comedies.
The Painkiller plays The Garrick until 30 April 2016. For more information and tickets, see The Branagh Theatre website.
Photo: Johan Persson