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Dead Funny (1994)

Dead Funny


A play by Terry Johnson, performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, with its opening night on 27 January 1994; transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre, London on 6 April 1994.


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With thanks to Nadine for the colour photo.


Dead Funny is set in Islington, during spring 1992.  Doctor's wife Eleanor is desperately trying to persuade her husband, Richard, that they should start a family.  Bizarrely, he is more preoccupied by the deaths of Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd, two of the nation's best-loved comics, than the couple's sexual therapy sessions. 

As founder members of the Dead Funny Society, Richard and the couple's neighbours indulge in slapstick and farce to celebrate the careers of late comedians.  They happily make jokes about love and marriage, so why is it almost impossible for them to confront the problems plaguing their relationships? 

Alternately sad and scathing, Eleanor struggles to see the funny side of life in this darkly comic exploration of British attitudes towards sexual relationships.


Zoë Wanamaker ... Eleanor

David Haig ... Richard

Niall Buggy ... Brian

Danny Webb ... Nick

Beatie Edney ... Lisa


Director: Terry Johnson
Designer: Sue Plummer
Lighting Designer: Simon Opie
Sound Designer: John A. Leonard


This was the premiere production of Dead Funny, which proved so popular that it broke box office records at the Vaudeville Theatre, as well as receiving the Critic's Circle award for Best New Play.

Of the serious issues raised by the play, Zoë says: 'It's a dangerous work which leads the audience in many different directions and has a resonance with every woman.  All women have this dilemma: we're in touch with death every month from puberty until late middle-age.  Men aren't.  We have the constant worry of that time switch when we will no longer be able to breed, whereas men are geared to procreate as long as they want' (see 'I Don't Have the Confidence To Be a Personality' interview).

David Haig (who played Richard) cites Zoë as one of his favourite co-stars and Dead Funny as one of his favourite productions (see his WhatsOnStage.com interview).

Press coverage

Dead Funny received 'well-nigh universal acclaim', as the Independent's Paul Taylor commented; the newspaper lists it among Hampstead Theatre's triumphs.  In the production, 'the smouldering character of Eleanor (Zoe Wanamaker) [...] develops through misery and anger into a devastating comedian', wrote Taylor's colleague, Irving Wardle.  'Eleanor [is] both acidulously sharp and love-lorn in Zoe Wanamaker's towering performance', agreed Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard.  Fellow theatre critic Malcolm Rutherford was similarly impressed: 'Ms Wanamaker is a wonderful actress'.

Eleanor's attempt to arouse Richard, just as the doorbell rings, appears in The Telegraph's 'Top Five Theatrical Sex Scenes', compiled by critic Charles Spencer.  The scene is also discussed in an interview with David Haig, Zoe's co-star, published in The Times.


Dead Funny by Terry Johnson

Related links

Dead Funny production photos - TopFoto (search the website using the keywords 'Wanamaker' and 'Funny' to view images)

Dead Funny production photo - former Artistic Director of Hampstead Theatre Jenny Topper's website

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