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The Painkiller at the Lyric Theatre Belfast

Marie-Louise Muir | 13:02 UK time, Monday, 3 October 2011

Photo of Ken Branagh and Rob Brydon at the Lyric Theatre Belfast


Forget about what's happening on stage. Even if it is Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon. There was more interest in who was in the audience on Saturday night at the Lyric for The Painkiller. David Walliams, having survived his swim the length of the Thames was there, as was Sir Derek Jacobi. It was the talk of Facebook even before the play started. I genuinely don't think I have felt such a frisson about a play in Belfast before. I was at the press night on Thursday night. The closest to celebrity that night was BBC Radio Ulster's Mark Carruthers OBE!
But you could sense that it was living up to its name of being the hottest ticket in town. Normally press nights at the Lyric include local hacks, including me, BBC's Maggie Taggart and Grania McFadden from the Belfast Telegraph. But on Thursday, there was a man sitting in front of me, scribbling down notes throughout, while two older ladies, audience members, took great delight in pointing at him. It seems this lesser spotted theatre critic was the Telegraph's Charles Spencer. He seemed to like it. The play and seemed oblivious to the attention of the two ladies!
So back to what's happening on stage - Sean Foley's adaptation of Francis Veber's French farce "The Painkiller". Sean Foley wrote "The Play what I Wrote" which Branagh directed in the West End. In this production, Branagh takes to the stage of his hometown, playing a very suave, sexy looking professional hit man, Ralph. May I pause here to say that it is obvious that Branagh, despite his 50 years, works out! May I pause here to say that Rob obviously doesn't work out, which adds to the comic effect of his exposed garish boxer shorts and his trousers around his ankles bouncing up the steps of the bedroom.
Rob Brydon is a press photographer, Brian Dudley, who ends up in adjoining rooms to Branagh's character in a hotel. The two characters are both in town to take a different "shot" of a huge trial taking place across the road from the hotel in the nearby courthouse.  
It's Brydon's first stage play, and he is very good. It was an odd moment though when he walked out onto the stage as I half thought we should have clapped him, just for being Rob Brydon. Ditto for Branagh when he came on. 
As farces go, this is no different. There's a lot of trouser dropping, general disrobing, simulated sex, mainly between men, but this display of flesh and general carry on maybe won't go viral quite like Rhianna in the field in Bangor. And then there's the walking into doors, slipping on wet floors, and the physical comedy, particularly Branagh's, which is laugh out loud brilliant.
At one point he is given a large dose of valium, injected with comic precision into his left buttock,  and his slow awakening from it, incapable of speech or of even walking in a straight line, is a masterclass in farce.
There's been ambivalent reaction to the play. Some like it, others loathe it. I laughed a lot, even if it was silly in places. But bottom line, excuse the pun, It's a farce. And while London basked in 30c, and it was bucketing from the heavens here, it's good to know that Ken and Rob and their famous friends were in town.


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