Writer: Graham Linehan (adapted from the 1955 screenplay by William Rose)
Director: Sean Foley
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
The Public Reviews Rating:
Graham Linehan’s stage play of The Ladykillers is adapted from the screenplay of the classic 1955 Ealing Comedy of the same name. The dark humour, hilarious plot and comic personalities are all there from the original, but this stage adaptation steps up the pace and moves on from the dark humour of the cinema version, injecting more comedy and farce to uproarious effect.
The story is around Mrs Wilberforce (Michele Dotrice), an eccentric old lady living alone, overlooking Kings Cross Station. Her life changes the day Professor Marcus appears at her door asking for lodgings and a place for his friends to practice their string quartet. Professor Marcus (Paul Brown) is not what he seems; in fact he is the mastermind behind a violent criminal group. Their stay with Mrs Wilberforce is a front while they pull off a heist at the adjoining railway station using the musical meetings as cover. So far so good but, of course, in true comic tradition, it all starts to unravel and it does so very quickly.
Professor Marcus has the perfect plan but chinks appear as soon as Mrs Wilberforce starts to interfere. At the beginning of the heist he is calm and unflappable. As the play reaches its climax he behaves more like an insane vicar. The characters of the other four gang members are diametrically opposed and this tension provides much of the comedy. The explosive rages of Louis (Shaun Williamson) provide a constant undercurrent of menace. Harry (William Troughton) is the pill-popping youngest member of the gang with an obsessive compulsion to clean. One-Round (Chris McCalphy), the lumbering giant with no brains, can’t even remember his name and continually threatens to give them all away. Major Courtney (Clive Mantle) surprises us all as a closet cross dresser to great comic effect.
It is the comical development of the characters, the great lines and hilarious visual jokes which set this play apart as better than the classic film version. The humour as each of the gang starts to parody their own character is tremendously well written. The slapstick and farce are excellently directed by Sean Foley. The staging is superb. The story needs a crooked house, parlour, practice room, railway line, car chase and room for ten lilac ladies. Michael Taylor deserves mention for imaginative and creative design which manages all these with barely any disruption to the action. The car chase, in particular, is ingenious.
If there is any criticism it does feel like the show is lacking something from the cast. Possibly the comic timing and that final energy in the interaction between the performers isn’t quite there yet. The audience laugh a lot but the script promises more. It is early days in a long run with a strong cast – all this will surely come together to provide one of the best theatre comedies of the year.
Runs until 22nd September 2012.
The Ladykillers - Theatre Royal, Plymouth,
Tags: Chris McCalphy, Clive Mantel, Ealing Comedy, Graham Linehan, Michael Taylor, Michele Dotrice, Paul Brown, Plymouth, Sean Foley, Shaun Williamson, The Ladykillers, Theatre Royal, Theatre Royal Plymouth, William Rose, William Troughton