The Painkiller – Awarded Four Stars. ****

2644All the ingredients for an outstanding theatrical evening are there: a stellar cast, an impeccable setting and a simple but creative story, which unites them all.
The Painkiller, Sean Foley’s adaptation of the French hit Le Contrat of the late 60s and 70s by dramatist Francis Veber, brings two men together for one afternoon, who would otherwise be unlikely to even share a pint for one evening.
John Smith/Ralph, portrayed by Kenneth Branagh, is a professional killer sent to assassinate a gangster being brought to court, and with this job hopes to finally set an end to this rather isolating career. Brian Dudley, played by an outstanding Rob Brydon, is trying to win back his wife, from whom he is separated after an eight-year marriage. That, or he will kill himself. These two men spend a day at a hotel in adjoining rooms, and in- turn their lives change – for better or for worse.
After Dudley’s first suicide attempt finds him and the eczema-riddled porter (fabulously brought to life by Mark Hadley) drenched in water, Smith offers his care to the depressed hotel neighbour in order to avoid the police being called in, threatening to foil his plans. But things turn out differently, and the day quickly descends into hilarious chaos when Dudley’s wife, Michelle (Claudie Blakley) and her current lover Dr Dent (Alex Macqueen), join the ‘odd couple’ in the hotel…
‘Comedies are created by being serious about trivial things, or treating trivial things with seriousness’, Foley says, and The Painkiller offers a combination of both; by using themes such a murder and suicide, marital unhappiness and lost love without any disregard of their status and their effects on the characters, and shaping them into highly creative entertainment for the audience through wit, humour, physical comedy and impeccable timing.
The farce, adapted and directed by Foley, reaches particular comedic heights when actors and set collide.Albeit the sheer volume of the delivery, which at times blazes over some of the more emotional corner- stones of the characters (and will surely balance out as the run continues) the performances of the whole cast continue to raise the stakes until the final moments.
The fast-paced staging and fluidity of what can only be described as true ensemble performances are bound to ensure a theatrical hit, which is highly entertaining without reaching for frivolousness.
Review by Alice Kornitzer.

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