The Painkiller Garrick Theatre


Britons tend not to show their emotions. We greet people with a modest handshake and wave them farewell – the less physical contact the better. Yet we love to laugh. Yes, we enjoy the borderline serious comedy (QI, Have I Got News For You etc.) but deep down we bloody love a good farce.

I mean let’s face it, who doesn’t enjoy seeing people fall over, walk into doors and end up in accidental half-naked compromising positions just before somebody walks in? Exactly.

Adapted (and directed) by Sean Foley from Francis Veber’s La Contrat, Painkiller deals with very serious subjects, including divorce and suicide, mixed with a good healthy dose of mistaken identity and unfortunate timing. Which in the sense of a farce translates as impeccable timing.

Kenneth Branagh plays Ralph, a hit man doing one last job. He’s clean cut in a smart suit… With a massive gun. He’s a trained killer, while the guy in the room next door (Rob Brydon) is a photographer who’s going to kill himself. What could possibly go wrong?

Rob Brydon is perfect as self-pitying Brian, who ruins the day (and actually the life) of his poor neighbour. Brydon’s intonation and facial expressions alone draw laughs from the audience, but as he is best known as a comedian, we expect him to be funny.

The role of Ralph owes itself to a straight actor and Kenneth Branagh rises to the challenge, showing a different side that is rarely seen. He makes a complete fool of himself on stage and it’s brilliant.

At times (of course), he is semi-naked in various awkward positions with another semi-naked cast member. When his character is unfortunately given a tranquilliser he ends up crawling on all fours, exclaiming “Where’s the jab with the prick? Cucksocker!”

The fabulous Mark Hadfield (Porter) is not to be forgotten, bustling around bringing tea, fixing windows and proclaiming “Enjoy!” every time he leaves the room… Regardless of what awkward situation he has stumbled upon.

Sean Foley’s script moves along at a good pace, showing its versatility for edits to suit a certain actor and an ever-changing society, even managing to incorporate a reference to ‘Netflix and chill’. The set (beautifully designed by Alice Power) is incredible, with two mirror image boutique hotel rooms, complete with brightly coloured feature walls and an excessive amount of cushions.

Painkiller has all of the elements required in a good farce: an excessive amount of doors, faulty windows, mistaken identity, accidental nudity and embarrassing, unexplainable predicaments. It’s also pretty damn funny and should be prescribed to anyone in need of a laugh.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Johan Persson

The Painkiller is playing at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End until 29 April 2016