The Two Ronnie’s ‘Four Candles’ sketch is a regular in our house – my Dad a true advocate of ‘they don’t make’em like they used to’. He would be well placed amongst the members of the Dead Funny Society, who gather to celebrate the golden age of British comedy and the comedians who have sadly left us.
Terry Johnson’s play is a wonderful celebration of the likes of Morecambe and Wise, Frankie Howerd and Tommy Cooper. It’s 1992 and society head honcho Richard, calls together the members to mourn the death of Benny Hill in true nineties style – with custard pies, trifles and twiglets. However as with many of the greats, a life of darkness and sadness lurks behind the comedic veneer.
The one person not chuckling at the Boom Oo Yata TaTa sketch is Richard’s wife Ellie. They’re watching marriage counselling tapes to rekindle their sexual spark as Ellie craves nothing more than to have a baby. It’s desperately sad as her husband battles with his intimacy issues (well, with her anyway) and she vents her frustration through humour that’s as dry as her martinis.
Katherine Parkinson steals the show as Ellie, giving an outstanding performance as a woman terribly unhappy by the lack of fulfilment and affection in her marriage, self-medicating with gin to mask the hurt. But with the despair she delivers some of the best comedy in the piece and her opening scene massaging a naked Rufus Jones is absolutely hilarious.
The rest of the cast deliver superb performances with Steve Pemberton bringing a wonderful charm as closet gay member Brian. He’s a hugely likeable character and the welcomed relief as an outsider, objective to the two couple’s marital woes. Equally new parents Nick and Lisa, played by Ralf Little and Emily Berrington, portray a couple who seemingly have it all but are similarly experiencing their own issues.
The first half brims with witty humour, heaps of smut and even a flash of nudity. As the second act takes hold, we’re left with something far more sad and heart-breaking as the break-up of Ellie and Richard’s marriage spectacularly unravels. But just when this comedy descends into drama, Johnson pulls the thrust and restores the humour with a brilliant slap-stick routine, expertly choreographed.
There are a few moments when some of the jokes are played out a little too long and it feels as though it loses a little focus and direction. However, overall Johnson’s revival offers nostalgia, silliness and heaps of laughs at a poignant time when we all probably need a good laugh.
(Photo courtesy of Tristram Kenton)