Writer: Graham Linehan
Director: Kevin Shaw
Reviewer: Ruth Gerrard
Having been a hit in at the Liverpool Playhouse and in the West End previously, it is time for the Coliseum in association with Harrogate Theatre,to present this adaptation of the 1955 Ealing Studios film of the same name.
When lovely old widow Mrs Wilberforce (Roberta Kerr) advertises a room to let in the local shop window, she cannot predict just who will want to lodge in her rickety old house next to train line at Kings Cross. When the gentlemanly Professor Marcus (Chris Hannon) in his bow tie and long scarf comes calling, she is only too pleased to let the room to him. Not only is he Professor, he quickly advises her that he will need absolute privacy when the members of his string quartet come around to practise.
To Mrs Wilberforce’s delight, his merry ‘gang’ constitutes a Major (Christopher Wright); a young scamp with a propensity for cleaning, Harry (Henry Devas); a very large chap known as Mr Lawson (Howard Gray), and a brooding Romanian called Louis (Matthew Ganley). Cue a house full of people and music and many an opportunity to provide tea and cake for Mrs Wilberforce. All is not as it appears as the musicians reveal themselves to be master criminals planning a lucrative heist in the upstairs bedroom of a house with subsidence in less-than-salubrious Kings Cross. Will they pull it off or will Mrs Wilberforce and her long-suffering associate Constable MacDonald (Simoen Truby) smell a rat coming from the cello cases of the unlikely quintet upstairs?
There is no doubt the film was a roaring success and the recent stage adaptations well received but it is difficult not to feel that the material is a little hackneyed in places. The use of slapstick humour and farce is too obvious and repetitive in places. A gag with the rotating notice board is overdone and loses it comedic value; the issues raised with the Professor’s scarf is overworked and almost identical each time it is played out. It never escalates or peaks to increase the farcical elements of this joke. It feels as though Shaw could have pulled more out of these actors to build on the exuberance on stage and increase the hilarity that is simmering under the surface.
The cast works tirelessly throughout and by the end of the evening Hannon has delivered a suitably manic performance as the not so genius criminal mastermind. He moves around the stage with astonishing frequently and captures the comedic feel of the piece perfectly. Gray as Mr Lawson is a loveable rogue who is more multifaceted than he first appears. Ganley is a convincing Romanian mafia boss, the quietly menacing type who does not like old ladies. Wright’s Major is dignified yet somewhat unusual as his past and presence interest in women’s fashion is atestament to. Kerr’s Mrs Wilberforce is suitably lavender with a fierce moral streak. It is hard not like her despite her interfering ways. Truby is dependable as the incredulous constable and looks wonderful in a fox fur. There is no denying the infectious energy and dedication on stage; they all work hard to breathe life into a script that may well be past its peak.
As ever Foxton has created a set that allows all the elements of the plot to come to fruition and gives the cast the setting they need to bring the piece to life. The times when the trains roar past the house are well staged and used to great effect.
There is no denying the humour is entertaining and there are laugh out loud moments throughout the night but it leaves this reviewer with a simple grin rather than sides aching from laughter. A gentle evening’s entertainment that is sure to please many but is lacking the oomph to dazzle.
Runs until 2 July 2016 | Image: