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Dead Funny

The Oldham Coliseum’s current production is Dead Funny by Terry Johnson, a poignant, bittersweet comedy that revolves around the Dead Funny society…

Published on February 5th 2007.

Dead Funny

Dead Funny

By Terry Johnson

A Coliseum Production in association with One for the Road Ltd

Richard is the president of the Dead Funny Society, a group who celebrate the memory of dead comedians. Tonight Benny Hill and later (almost as a coup de theatre) Frankie Howard, provide the farce, humour and innuendo when the Society meets as a memorial to their lives (or perhaps deaths) with help from Morecambe and Wise, Max Miller, Norman Wisdom, Jimmy James and Tony Hancock amongst others.

Coupled with their strange fixation is the almost everyday story of two marriages drifting aimlessly on the rocks of sexual disarray. Both are perfect examples of arrested development. No sex please (we’re English) unless it is of the vulgar, mindless kind - which is a particular speciality of this society.

Terry Johnson marries these strands into an explosive, hilarious, farcical, distressing and in its final analysis a most depressing two hours of great playwriting.

Written over a decade ago it presages the arrival of Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City as it explores the then current obsession with the smutty, the double entendre and the infantile approach to sexual morality. It graphically displays the existing stunted mentality.

Only the dates have changed. Our sexual liberation is still a limited one. Our parents and grandparents understood and indeed were part of the antics of these long dead but not forgotten comedy stars of the post second world war British firmament . The play explores basic truths which have not altered since it was first written.

A superb night at Oldham emphasised the tragic nature of the play. Much laughter, some very funny vignettes but building towards the essential despair surrounding all five characters.

Beautifully directed by Nikolai Foster with first class work by Designer Sara Perks, their individual contributions to the success of the evening are immense. Amongst the acknowledgements in the programme, the Director thanks Kay Magson for casting advice so I assume she played a crucial role as Casting Director. It is a job well done.

The cast were superb. I offer pride of place to Robin Askwith as Brian, the closet homosexual. It was a performance that grew in stature as the play progressed. Totally believable, sad, hilarious and compelling. A masterclass in the acting art.

Kerry Peers and Steven Pinder as husband and wife Eleanor and Richard were the fulcrum of the play and their portrayals of a relationship in terminal decline would be hard to improve on. The gradual deterioration of the marriage was sensitively and poignantly portrayed.

Samantha Giles and Ben Hull as Nick and Lisa complete the cast. Another couple whose marriage is also collapsing, they also have a baby who becomes of some importance in the final denouement. Integral to the story, they add strength to the ensemble with fine performances which complement everything that is happening around them.

The cast has no weakness. This production is for all audiences with so many different facets. It wrenches at emotions, it evokes wry smiles, brings out great guffaws of laughter, but at its root it is sad, even soul destroying. A bitter sweet evocation of human inability to communicate many of the more important objectives of life.

A wonderful production which enhances the reputation of this marvellous theatre.

Richard Burbage
Feb 2007
Oldham Coliseum Theatre until 24th February
Box Office 0161 624 2829

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