The Painkiller - Review

The Painkiller has now closed at the Garrick Theatre. See shows at the Garrick Theatre here.

Rating ****

This show started out as a French farce, written by Francis Veber, and in this version has been adapted by Sean Foley, who also directs. It comes from the 'what can go wrong, will go wrong' school of comedy, with lots of good old-fashioned slapstick humour delivered by a group of actors who are masters of comedy timing. And that surprisingly even includes Kenneth Branagh!

The plot revolves around two main characters who share adjoining hotel rooms. Actor/comedian and TV star Rob Brydon plays Brian Dudley, a local photographer for the Swindon Advertiser. Next door we find Kenneth Branagh as Ralph, a smartly dressed professional assassin. They are both there to cover a court case taking place across the road from the hotel. Brydon's charactera is there to photograph the action, though he has recently been dumped by his wife, and so may commit suicide at any moment. Whereas Branagh's character is on a contract to kill, but only if the guy next door will let him …

The two actors own their characters entirely. Maybe you'd expect that from Brydon as comedy is in his DNA. But Branagh also delights and surprises us with his versatility. He has played comedy before, most recently as part of his own season of plays at the Garrick Theatre, in Harlequinade. This show also forms part of the same season, but feels very different. Here, Branagh's character accidentally gets drawn into a sequence of events that sees him losing control of his body. Talking, walking and even standing up become virtually impossible for him after he is mistakenly injected with ketamine, a tranquilliser. This renders him a gibbering wreck for much of the show. It was such a revelation to see this normally very serious and highly respected actor staggering across the stage and being very silly indeed!

A special mention has to go to Mark Hadfield, who plays hotel porter Vincent. As the action unfolds we see Vincent going from calm to stressed out and he throws in a huge dollop of mincing and campness while he tries to go about his job. He may not win Hotel Employee of the Month, but by golly this man is a trier!

A little known fact is that the original play was made into a Hollywood movie: “Buddy, Buddy”, released in 1981. Although starring legendary actors Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, the film version was not considered a success at the time. This adaptation by Sean Foley, however, works on every level and is well worth seeing if you want a fun night out.

The surprise of the show has to be Branagh. He adds yet another string to his already long bow – this time as a master of slapstick. The whole cast have fun and as a result so does the audience. And please can someone give Mark Hadfield an award for his efforts – this performance needs to celebrated in some way. As he would say: "Enjoy!".

Reviewed by: Bona Ruocco