Excellent slapstick with Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon

Excellent slapstick with Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon

Robert Tanitch logoRobert Tanitch reviews The Painkiller at Garrick Theatre, London WC2

Francis Veber’s The Painkiller is based on Veber’s classic French farce, Le Contrat, which premiered in Paris in 1969.

It is probably best known in the UK in Veber’s highly successful 1973 film version, L’Emmerdeur, with Lino Ventura and Jacques Brel in the leading roles. The English title was A Pain in the Ass.

The comedy is set in two adjoining hotel rooms. In one room is a professional hit-man (Kenneth Branagh) who has an assignment to shoot and kill a criminal in the street from the hotel window.

Painkiller with Rob Brydon and Kenneth Branagh

Rob Brydon and Kenneth Branagh

In the other room is a local press photographer (Rob Brydon), a born loser, who is having marital problems and is intent on committing suicide. He proves to be an irritating distraction for the hit-man.

A doctor arrives to sedate the photographer but (a classic case of mistaken identity) tranquilizes the hit-man.

Sean Foley, who has adapted very freely, also directs. Foley is a master when it comes to physical comedy and he rightly concentrates on the physical business.

Trousers are constantly dropped and the two men are constantly found in compromising positions. The slapstick is crude and very funny.

The comic timing is excellent. Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon synchronise and play off each other beautifully.

It’s all very silly. An attempt to give the characters a little more depth and make it a farce noire in the final moments comes too late and is a waste of time.

Brydon’s comedy technique is a known factor. The surprise is Branagh who proves to be a natural farceur. His body language is hilarious, one minute cationic, the next as frisky as a horse.

Branagh has a lot of fun with the role. Foley should direct Branagh in a farce by that master farceur, Georges Feydeau.

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