The classic Ealing black comedy crime caper ‘The Ladykillers’ has been reborn by the wry wit behind Father Ted and The IT Crowd, Graham Lineham. Fresh from a successful run in the West End, the show brings the best parts of the much loved 1955 film to the stage with quick and energetic dialogue and perfectly timed choreography. More farce than dark, this production still presents the gently sinister bank robber Professor Marcus and his mismatched group of accomplices pulling their hair our as they try to pull the wool over the eyes of their aging landlady Mrs Wilberforce.
For those who haven’t seen this classic British comedy (not to be confused the recent cringe making remake starring Tom Hanks) the plot revolves around a one Mrs Wilberforce, an eccentric widow living alone with only an afflicted parrot for company. Who, from her subsidence plagued house next to King’s Cross Station, decides to place an advertisement in her local newsagents for a lodger.
Now, Mrs Wilberforce, who is always reporting something or other to the local police, is a classic old dear, curtain twitching busybody and all round conspiracy theorist – convinced the reason for her house's subsidence is a devious German plot in response to some very strongly worded letters she sent to the Times. However, she appears entirely oblivious to what is going on right under her nose when she lets her spare room out as a practice space to criminal mastermind Professor Marcus and his fellow 'musicians'.
Sporting violin and cello cases we meet the not so bright Mr Lawrence – aka One Round (Chris McCalphy), Major Courtney a nervous conman who has a keen interest in women’s apparel (Clive Mantle), Harry Robinson the pill popping spiv who gets uncontrollable urges to clean if he has to many red ones (William Troughton) and Louis Harvey the central European mobster who had a phobia of old women and battles with idioms in the English language (Shaun Williamson).
The bulk of the play involves our clutch of crims attempting to hide their villainous scheming from Mrs W under their string quintet cover. The sweet old dear apparently unawares to the imminent train robbery being planned from her spare room. It's all going like clockwork except for one small conundrum, how to retrieve the loot after the job? All eyes turn to our gullible landlady. A madcap comedy of errors ensues and as the criminal minds turn from ill-gotten gains, to greed and fear of the law, the body count starts to rise. Look out Mrs W!
The first thing that strikes you as the curtain rises is the incredible set. The lopsided house is truly a lopsided house – almost a dolls house with so much to look at. The compact three level set is the perfect reflection of Mrs Wilberforce (superbly played by Michele Dotrice) with the entire set shaking and moving each time a train passes by. Mrs W’s poorly parrot General Gordon continues to remind us of his presence and the tiny space used as the room the group rent to plan the robbery is a wonderful piece of design with perfectly timed choreography from the group as they run, jump and caper. Parts of the set move and collapse and it is an integral part of the play, almost a character itself. The very imaginative toy car chase only adds to the fun.
Everyone will have their favourite performances but of special note were Dotrice as Mrs Wilberforce, the slap stick and very likeable Troughton as spiv Robinson and the quiet yet hard to ignore Mantle as the twitchily eccentric Major Courtney. This is a Sterling take on the film and Ealing Films fan or not, if you like fast moving comedy with a bit of slapstick you will love this 90 minute dose of pure fun.
The Ladykillers plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal from Monday 29 October to Saturday 3 November 2012.