Review: Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's THE PAINKILLER at the Garrick

The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's 'Plays at the Garrick' season is something I'm progressively enjoying more and more as the year goes on, but despite the high level of comedy in this modern day farce, 'The Painkiller' really didn't cut it for me. Sure I found a lot of it funny and it was a good laugh, but there was something about the piece that cried out for more story to it.

Even Rob Brydon's famous BBC sitcom Gavin and Stacey had more substance to it than this play. For something that had such a unique setting and story behind it and with such A-class actors as Kenneth Brannagh, Rob Brydon and Alex Macqueen, it's just a shame that the play wasn't beefed out more to compensate for the weak comedy.

I do however take into account the two factors that could hinder that: firstly, a farce isn't supposed to be filled with some highly complicated storyline so perhaps Francis Veber didn't think it appropriate for the play - which leads onto the other reasoning being that the play existed before this production. Quite frankly though, that doesn't change the fact that the play itself is screaming for more depth. Branagh's character Ralph works as a hit man and considering the subject is never referenced apart from when his gun is used for physical comedy, it's disappointing. The play itself has all of the fantastic components for a good fun murder mystery kind of comedy, but it seriously falls short of the mark.

Kenneth Branagh stars in The Painkiller

The story itself follows two men who are staying in a hotel in mirrored rooms next door to one another. Kenneth Branagh gives a witty performance as Ralph the hit man who is in the room on a mission from a "bigger power". Meanwhile next door, Rob Brydon plays Dudley; a man who is extremely hung up on his ex-partner of 8 years who has recently left him. Throughout the play, Ralph must help Dudley get over his elaborate and devastating breakup which takes him in many unfortunate turns along the way. With Mark Hadfield as the genuinely hilarious porter, Alex Macqueen as Dent (the "new Dudley"), Michelle played by Claudie Blakley and the policeman played by Marcus Fraser, the play has a strong ensemble cast in a mediocre comedy.

The design of the show is surprisingly simple as well. While the idea of a split stage seems great because of the comedic value having two mirrored rooms can offer, it really wasn't utilised when a vast majority of the show only happens in one of the rooms. The rooms themselves also looked tacky and what I can only describe as 2003's idea of what modern looks like. It felt like a cheap shot at something that could've picked up the play a lot; perhaps it didn't need to be anything fancy, but it just looked lazy.

In comparison to the rest of the plays this season from Branagh, it's the weakest we've seen so far. While I don't deny that there is an audience that want to see this play, it's surely for the cast that has been assembled as opposed to the poor book that it has to offer.

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