Garrick Theatre, London – until 30 April 2016
BRANAGH AND BRYDON GO BANG
Well, you’ll never see our Kenneth Branagh more exuberantly violent, nor tumbling into more compromising positions; nor so crazedly drugged, veering from a bout of the ketamine-staggers to full amphetamine mania with a loaded Heckler and Koch automatic in a hotel bedroom. Or having his neat arse twice injected through his Gents navy trouserings, as worn by high-class hitmen when prone concussed on beanbags.
Nor will you observe many more engaging examples of an infuriated road to bromance than this: Branagh and Brydon, a masterclass in aggressive contrast. There were moments when I quite wanted to dislike this boys’ own lark, but I never managed it, so power to them both.
For its been a hot week for slightly black-hearted French maitres de farce on the London stage. Yesterday the Menier unveiled the Hampton translation of Florian Zeller’s peerless, subtle four- handed intrigue THE TRUTH, and tonight we got this: Sean Foley’s version, reset in modern London and directed by himself, of the 1969 Le Contrat by Francis Veber.
In adjoining hotel bedrooms, complete with a nicely camp porter (Mark Hadfield) we have our heroes. Rob Brydon is the suicidal smalltime Welsh photographer , planning to hang himself because his wife has gone off with her psychiatrist. Beyond the handy connecting door Branagh is the suave determined hitman, preparing for his final job manning the window sniper-style and wiping out a gangster on his way to trial .
Only of course the shutter keeps sticking, and the porter enrols him to look after Brydon’s hopeless Welshman after his rope brings the ceiling down. The killer concurs because time is running out and he can always garotte the pest, only it is interrupted and he has to pretend its a shoulder-rub. And all the while Brydon remains innocent, needy , grateful and garrulous. Indeed for the first half of this neat 90 minutes it is Brydon’s performance which holds it together: observes the old comedy rule , he takes poor Dudley absolutely seriously: living every despair, need , and moment of sunny vapidity. Branagh – before the no-spoilers drug incident – plays against him with earnest irritated solidity, and it is splendid.
But then we get a wildly improbable psychiatrist , the disputed wife (Claudie Blakley) , a series of embarrassing apparent gay sexual tableaux to affront and excite the porter, some courageous underpant acting and nifty basic door-work, and that essential farce moment when you think, “hang on, is there or is there not still a concussed police officer in that wardrobe?”
After the ice -cool naturalist messing-with-your- head of yesterday’s five-mouse Zeller, this is all more familiar turf: but it is a good notch or two up from the – now slightly tired – world of traditional Whitehall or Feydeau sex farces. As a refreshing sorbet in this serious – and sometime thrilling – Branagh season, it is ideal. Respect to it, skimpy underpants and all. I got so fond of the duo in the last scene that I really hope they don’t hurt themselves on all those doors.
box office 0330 333 4811 http://www.nimaxtheatres.com to 30 April