5:48pm Tuesday 27th November 2012
By Alan Wallcroft
Review: The Ladykillers - at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Monday, November 26 to Saturday, December 1, 2012.
QUITE simply wonderful, with this adaptation of that famous and iconic black comedy from the old Ealing film studios providing a great night of rollicking fun from start to finish.
This touring version of The Ladykillers has been brilliantly rehashed by Graham Linehan, writer of the excellent Father Ted television series and others, and it’s all the more appealing thanks to an outstanding set.
Basically we have a bumbling bunch of robbers, a disparate and diverse group of criminals posing as a touring musical quintet, who pitch up as lodgers at the rickety and ramshackle home of a sweet and innocent old lady next door to Kings Cross railway station.
Set in the 1950s, Linehan thankfully hasn’t strayed too far away from William Rose’s original screenplay but a couple of fine diversions off the main line include a rumbustiously funny off-the-cuff concert and a ‘musical conference’ in a cupboard!
Michele Dotrice is top notch as a noteworthy Mrs Wilberforce – a dottily endearing but unwitting thorn in the gang’s getaway plans, as well as a bit of a well-intentioned nuisance to the local police.
All the action takes place in, on or around her lopsided house - the result of subsidence. It’s a splendid split-set from Michael Taylor which has a segment that superbly skews round to provide roof top scenes to emphasise the closeness of the trains moving in and out of the neighbouring Kings Cross station. It’s an intriguing and eye-catching work of art that deserved its nomination for an Olivier Award.
The hapless gang provide a ‘tour de farce’ – with some great slapstick comedy, although one or two elements almost reached the point of being a tad overdone.
The brain behind the £250,000 bank money heist is ‘the Professor’ - played faultlessly and stylishly by Paul Bown (Holby City’s Philip Reid), who slipped easily into the mantle of the role played by Alec Guinness in the original. And mention of Mantle leads nicely to Clive - of that name - (Vicar of Dibley and Mike Barrett in Casualty/Holby City), whose outstanding versatility was to the fore again as he showed what a fine comic actor he is as ‘the Major’, an ex-Army man with a curiousw penchant for women’s clothing...
The rest of this oddball string quartet – Professor Marcus is their conductor, comprise Chris McCalphy’s ‘One-Round’, a loveable but dim ex-boxer, a gentle giant reminiscent of the much-loved Arthur Mullard, Shaun Williamson’s Louis, a knife wielding Romanian assassin with a fear of old ladies and things going wrong, and William Troughton, the accident prone pill-popping Harry who has several hilarious altercations with a swinging blackboard.
Some memorable performances here, including the amusing mangling of the English language, all done with great comic timing and superbly pulled together by director Sean Foley.
The enduring element of this tale is how the best laid plans of a bumbling bunch of criminals fall apart in the face of the moral outlook and tea-making skills of a sweet old dear.
Sticky endings abound, but here the end comes all too soon for a wonderful comedy that definitely warrants another visit. It’s such great fun and clearly on a par with the old original.
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