Play of the Week: Rob Brydon and a Drugged-up Kenneth Branagh Have a Ball in 'The Painkiller'
This 1969 French Play About a Suicidal Man Who Meets an Assassin Is Dark But Deliciously Silly

Radio Times, 17 March 2016
By Claire Webb
Thanks, Jane

Rob Brydon has the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he trudges onto the stage.

He's Dudley: unsuccessful photographer, jilted husband and man on the edge. Hes checked into a London hotel in the hope of reconciling with his wife, whos run-off with a Harley Street psychiatrist. When she refuses him, Dudley decides suicide is the only answer.

Written down, the plot of this 1969 French play sounds pretty bleak. In the hands of adaptor and director Sean Foley, its still bleak but its also extremely funny because every sorry line is punctuated by a pratfall or comic misunderstanding.

In the room next door is Kenneth Branagh, who plays a paid assassin. At first, his performance seems a bit straight compared to Brydons melodramatic anguish. Then his would-be killer is accidentally injected with horse tranquiliser meant for Dudley, and he starts tripping.

This is Branagh as youve never seen him before. He gurns, he crawls around on the floor mewling, he gyrates. One minute hes mouthing off like an East End gangster, the next hes doing a Russian accent while dribbling onto the bedspread. Not to be outdone, Brydon strips down to his undies and treats the audience to the sight of his jiggling pecs.

Their horseplay is slickly choreographed but farce is an acquired taste an old-fashioned taste. Despite a newish translation, Francis Veber's play does feel a bit dated, especially the mincing hotel porter (Mark Hadfield) whos agog when he walks in on his guests having sex, or so he believes.

Still, its a lot of fun and when else are you going to see Kenneth Branagh on ketamine?

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