Assassin Branagh's Comic Aim Proves Right On Target

Belfast Telegraph, 30 September 2011
By Grania McFadden

From the moment he steps onto the stage in sharp suit and shades, Ken Branagh's a man with a plan. He's Ralph, aka The Painkiller of the title - a hitman setting up shop in a hotel room, ready to take aim at the big shot in the courthouse.

Unfortunately, his room is next door to Brian Dudley's, who is planning to shoot the big shot as well - with his camera. He's a news photographer whose wife left him. He thinks it's time she came home. And so the best laid plans go astray...

Director Sean Foley wastes no time in setting the scene for his adaptation of Francis Veber's farce - the adjoining bedrooms, piles of cushions, a dodgy shutter, an attentive porter, a doctor and some drugs. Cue dropped trousers.

Well, not for a while. When Brian's wife refuses to meet him, he heads off to the shower with a noose around his neck. The intervention of Mark Hadfield's Porter ensures Brian lives to see another scene.

Brian does all the talking here. But then - as in all good French farces - something happens to change everything.

An attempted suicide, a knock on the head, another on the door and several entrances and exits from the outstanding Hadfield brings the show to life. From straight man to clown in the blink of an eye, Branagh turns his po-faced killer into a mess of twitches and tantrums.

Everyone is caught at a disadvantage. Nothing goes to plan.

Stuart Graham demonstrates his comic flair as the dreaded wife-stealer who arrives on the scene to help restore harmony. His trousers don't fit properly.

Brydon finds laughs in his character's lines. But farce is as much about physicality as it is about gags - and it's Branagh who demonstrates that the key to comedy is timing.

The show gets funnier as it progresses. And the star of the evening is Mark Hadfield's horrified Porter.

It's not the greatest farce in the world. Or the funniest.

But what a great coup for the Lyric, to have Branagh and Brydon share a stage in a world premiere in Belfast. That brings a smile to everyone's face.


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