By Sophia Whitfield
Director Sean Foley deftly brings Veber’s classic French farce to the stage. Starring Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon, The Painkiller is the fourth play in the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s six-play residency at the Garrick.
The play opens in two adjacent hotel rooms with an inter-connecting door. A high profile trial is unfolding and the streets below are packed with rowdy onlookers. Photographer Brian Dudley, played by Welsh comedian Rob Brydon, arrives in his hotel room desolate and pining for his ex-wife. He has been sent by the local paper in Swindon to join three hundred other photographers jostling for prime position to get visual documentation of the trial. But alone in his hotel room his mind is set on suicide.
As Dudley settles into despair his next-door neighbour arrives clad in a designer suit and carrying a machine gun. Ralph (Kenneth Branagh) is a hitman paid to take out the gangster on trial from his window, which has the best view of the throng below.
But against his better judgment Ralph is forced to babysit his suicidal neighbour. The result is high jinx comedy played with aplomb by Branagh and Brydon. Fraught scenes result when Dudley confronts his wife (Claudie Blakley) and her psychiatrist partner (Alex Macqueen). Identities are confused and Ralph is accidentally injected with horse tranquilizer. Clothes come off and Rob Brydon’s briefest of briefs are on display for quite some time.
It’s terrific to see Shakespearean actor Branagh once again playing a comedic role. He does excel at it. The Painkiller is an enormously entertaining play.
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