The Painkiller, Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Kenneth Branagh returned in triumph to Belfast, the city of his birth, last night and proved that among all his other achievements he is also a great farceur

The Telegraph, 30 September 2011
By Charles Spencer

Kenneth Branagh returned in triumph to Belfast, the city of his birth, last night and proved that among all his other achievements he is also a great farceur.

I have never seen this often rather solemn actor generating as much pure fun as he does here in 'The Painkiller', a farce by French dramatist Francis Veber. He even puts up with constant gags about his famously thin lips with a good grace.

The play has been adapted and directed by Sean Foley, best known for the achingly funny Morecambe and Wise tribute, 'The Play What I Wrote', which Branagh directed to great acclaim and success in the West End a decade ago.

Itís great to see the old firm back in business, and though 'The Painkiller' doesnít rise to quite the same level of comic bliss, it is undoubtedly the best new farce I have seen in years, repeatedly reducing the audience, and your reviewer, to helpless hysteria. Even some first-night technical hitches added to the jollity of the occasion.

The action is set in two adjoining hotels rooms overlooking a courthouse. One of them is occupied by the delightful Rob Brydon, playing a mournful Welsh loser and local press photographer who has been abandoned by his wife, and is determined to commit suicide. The other is taken by a sharp-suited Branagh, as a sinister professional hit-man who has come to wipe out a witness in the trial across the road before he names names and sends many others to prison. The plot must have a particular piquancy in Belfast.

As in most farces, the set-up is a touch laborious, but one is soon swept away on a wave of confused identities and delicious [sic]

Branaghís jelly-legged traversals of the stage as the Valium kicks in are a joy to behold, while his face becomes increasingly, and hilariously, simian. Before long he and the doleful Brydon, who is in such desperate need of a friend, are lying blissfully in each others arms, not to mention other more compromising positions.

There is a further comic tour de force when a policeman imprisoned in a wardrobe (donít ask) punches his arm through the door and Branagh has frantically to persuade the deliciously camp hotel porter (Mark Hadfield) that there is nothing unusual about a man who suddenly seems to have acquired an extra arm.

But if Branagh supplies a masterclass in physical comedy, there is a sweetness about Rob Brydonís forlorn cuckold that becomes genuinely touching as the action progresses, and the play finally achieves something I have never experienced in a farce before. The laughs keep on coming, but by the end you also find yourself unexpectedly moved.


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