Writer: Graham Linehan
Director: Peter Rowe
Reviewer: Paul Couch
While the original Ealing comedy upon which it’s based was produced in 1955, a passing reference to the start of the Suez Crisis places Peter Rowe’s production of Graham Linehan’s 2011 adaptation of The Ladykillers a year later than that in 1956.
Mrs Wilberforce, an elderly and eccentric widow, lives alone in a rambling house near King’s Cross Station. Mrs Wilberforce is a regular visitor to her local police station, forever complaining of being targeted by Nazis and other undesirables. When she advertises a room to let, Mrs W is delighted when Professor Marcus (Steven Elliott) turns up on her doorstep, all elbow patches and unfeasibly long scarf, seeking accommodation. The Professor soon ingratiates himself with the old dear and cements this by telling her that he leads an amateur string quartet, the members of which would be using his room for practice. It can’t be giving away any major plot twists to reveal the quartet is actually a cover for a criminal gang who are planning a heist in the area.
The performances in Rowe’s production are beautiful, if the actual characters are as stereotypical as one might expect from such source material. Elliott revels in his role as the flamboyant criminal mastermind, although it would have been interesting to see some contrast between the genial academic guise and the criminality beneath.
Veteran actor Graham Seed plays Major Courtney with a nervous energy and more than a few skeletons in his closet, while Sam Lupton gives chancer Harry a delicious spiv-spin. The brawn of the operation is One-Round Lawson (Damian Williams), perhaps the most fully-formed and successful of the characterisations, while Anthony Dunn is suitably menacing as the Romanian hit-man, Louis Harvey. Ann Penfold presents Mrs Wilberforce with suitable canny dottiness.
Richard Foxton’s revolving set is exquisitely detailed and a joy to watch in action.
The Ladykillers is a faithful adaptation of Alexander Mackendrick’s original movie, and that’s where it falls down. For a piece that’s only six years old, it’s an incredibly dated, old-school farce, a crime caper played – occasionally unsuccessfully – for laughs. As the second half concludes, it becomes much darker and loses its way somewhat, straying from its original farcical structure into black comedy, but never truly sitting comfortably there.
Rowe’s direction is a little windy in places with long silences between the actors. Some tightening up of these would go a long way in making the piece more engaging while paring the three-hour running time back a little.
In saying that, The Ladykillers will attract an audience of a certain demographic and get their lucrative bums on seats. Just don’t expect anything too controversial or challenging.
Runs until 30 September 2017 | Image: Mike Kwasniak