The Painkiller at the Lyric Theatre in Stranmillis, Belfast, was the setting for our date night last Tuesday night. It would be very fair to say that we're not regular members of the audience at plays. This was not only my first time at the Lyric Theatre but also the first play I'd seen live since I was in high school. When we usually visit a theatre it has always been either to look around, watch a musical or a laugh along at a pantomime, so on this occasion we were venturing a little out of our all singing, all dancing bubble and into a new world of stage plays.
In all honesty, it is also true that the cast list of Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon was the sole thing that sold it to us, and Norngirl in-particular was insistent we give it a go. I'm not overly enamoured about the 'OMG' celebrity culture of our society but when those celebrities are well known for being excellent at their craft then it's well earned and I was happy to go along. So after work we met up in town and got the 8A to Stranmillis.
Before heading to the venue we had an early bird meal at a restraunt on the Stranmillis Road. The food was lovely but sadly the place lacked a lot in the hospitality department and we won't be going back there again for a while.
After a rain soaked walk we reached the bright lights of the Lyric Theatre and headed to the bar for a drink, a small glass of wine was £3.80 which although expensive in real terms wasn't the most expensive as far as theatres go. The view from the bar was pretty cool, overlooking the River Lagan at the Stranmillis Embankment.
Before long the buzzer sounded and this prompted the hurry to the toilets. Finding them took a few looks around, one guy almost gave up after finding the ladies and the disabled but not the mens, maybe a bigger sign needed there. When you do find them, they're pretty cool and very modern, one of those bathrooms where everything is sensor activated.
Comfort stop completed, we climbed the stairs to locate our seats. Entering the theatre was a little confusing at first as usually (in bigger theatres we've been to at least) you have a door number to enter by, here we didn't, so we just aimed for the top and asked the lady who pointed us to our seats. The room was impressive, it was like a mini Waterfront hall but finished in dark wood and carpet. It was all very modern, the stage in front of us was big, bright and open. I honestly don't think there could have been a bad seat in the house. The set was pristinely laid out to look like adjoining hotel rooms.
After a short wait and with everyone settled, the play started. Although The Painkiller's run at the Lyric is at an end, I'll not go into too much detail in case it's brought back. Saying that - POTENTIAL SPOLIER ALERT! - click away now if you want to know not of what we saw that night...
The main two characters were, as you'd expect, played by Rob Brydon and Kenneth Branagh. Rob Byrdon's character was a man on the edge, his name is Brian, a photographer whose wife has left him for another man and who wants to end it all. Kenneth Branagh played a hitman who goes by the alias 'John Smith', a man who checked in to the hotel to do his day job from the hotel window. As dark as it might sound, it wasn't, it was light hearted for the most part and very funny a lot of the time, the situations became increasingly comical and the laughs grew bigger and bigger as the play moved along. Incidentally the amount of clothing the famous pair were wearing went the opposite direction of less and less. Anyone who went to see this can now say they have officially been in a room where both Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon were running around with their trousers around their ankles amongst other things.
The weird thing is that if I hadn't read that it was Rob Brydon's first live stage play and I had to choose who the most experienced stage actor was, I would have picked the wrong man. When he was in a scene it became spookily like watching a movie but obviously this was all in one big take. Not that Kenneth Branagh was bad, quite the opposite, even a close encounter with a door frame and a slip on some water didn't break his focus for long. Saying that, I have to admit that I have no idea if it's harder to play a stone cold assassin who is unexpectedly chemically intoxicated or a suicidal photographer, but of the two, the suicidal photographer was the star of the show for me. However the winner for most laughs per minute of stage time was the Hotel Porter who was played by Mark Hadfield, the best scenes of the whole show had to be when all three were on stage together when the Porter found the two in ever increasing compromising positions.
If I had one little bit of criticism of the play I think it would have to that a couple of the action scenes seemed a little too fake and a bit forced. In retrospect that could have just been the normal way these things are enacted in a play and a credit to how the rest of the play sucked me into feeling like I was watching TV to the point I was expecting realism in a fight scene.
Eventually the play came to an end and it ended well however I reckon my own alternate ending would have been awesome. All it would have taken would have been a voice over and sound effects from a helicopter a few of the characters, it would be an ending that would have either been a happy ever after with a big laugh or have just lead to a sequel. Maybe I'll have to be a real nerd and write fan fiction to a play, or not.
We left the Lyric happier then when we'd entered and made our way to the bus stop to head home.
The Painkiller really kept my attention well from beginning to end and was very entertaining. I'm still a little dubious as to what else on the list of performances coming up that I would actually like but I think I'll keep an eye out for other comedies at least. All in all I was very happy we went along and it was good to try something a little bit different to our normal entertainment. One thing is for certain, I'll be really looking out for any other live shows Rob Brydon decides to do and not just in case we get to see his undies again.