Writer: Graham Linehan
Director: Sean Foley
Reviewer: Victoria Bawtree
The Public Reviews Rating:
‘The Ladykillers – a Delightfully Different Entertainment’. This was the tag line the original creators of the Ealing comedy came up with, and one which director of the stage play, Sean Foley, is more than happy to stand by. And, indeed, he does. ‘The Ladykillers’, is a fantastically eclectic mix of comedy (black and otherwise), slapstick and farce, which takes the characters of the original film and develops their idiosyncrasies and eccentricities beautifully.
Recorded music and a screen illustrating a sweet two-up, two-down house transports the audience to a bygone era, but these are nothing in comparison to the delights of Michael Taylor’s inspired set of the inside of Mrs Wilberforce’s house, where the majority of the action takes place. Due to subsidence caused by bomb damage during the war, the house is completely crooked, from staircases and doorframes to all the effects therein. While this set gives the eye plenty to feast upon, there are clever tricks up the designer’s sleeve in the second half too. And the use of remote control cars, train and police cars coupled with voiceovers, music and sound effects to portray the robbery is a brilliant segue in act one.
Mrs Wilberforce (Michele Dotrice) is a delightfully doddery old widow who plans to rent out a room in her crooked house. Cue sinister music and backlighting at the front door to welcome ‘Professor’ Marcus (Paul Brown) who tells Mrs Wilberforce that he needs the room to rehearse his amateur string quartet, while all the time he is planning a daring heist and needs the room to prepare the operation. The criminals in charge of the string instruments are Major Courtney (Clive Mantle), beautifully in touch with his feminine side; wide-boy and pill-popping Harry Robinson (William Troughton); deadpan Romanian Louis Harvey (Shaun Williamson), and the easily led ‘One-Round’ (Chris McCalphy). Foley’s direction allows these fantastically British stereotypes to develop into the sinister misfits that they ultimately are, but still manages to achieve this while keeping the audience laughing and entertained.
The entire cast is excellent and all could easily be mentioned here. Michele Dotrice is a tour-de-force as the forgetful but interfering Mrs Wilberforce. Paul Brown is a true English Gentleman, who times his transfiguration into wily, scheming conman with real subtlety. Clive Mantle is hilarious as the effeminate Major, and Shaun Williamson’s sultry Romanian with a phobia of old ladies is perfect. And, of course, one mustn’t forget the extraordinary ‘extra’ old ladies, for providing the funniest collective response to various one-liners one is ever likely to see on stage.