The Ladykillers with its macabre plot and fantastic cast is the stalwart of the Ealing Comedies. Taking on such a well loved piece of cinema must have been a daunting task. However, writer Graham Linehan and director Sean Foley – with a good helping of Vaudeville, plenty of slapstick and a pinch of Monty Python – have put together a rich fruitcake of a show that adds a new and hilarious layer to the source material.
* * * * Mrs Wilberforce forms the show’s centre. The doddering old lady lives in a lopsided house over the rails of King’s Cross Station. It shakes whenever a train goes past, the pipes don’t work and the bathroom light kills the power. Her only distractions are her withering parrot General Gordon, her wild reports to the local bobby and her strongly worded letters to the Times.
Into her house stumbles Professor Marcus, a lodger hoping to take a room. Enter the titular ladykillers who, posing as an amateur string quintet, plan an armed robbery in the rented space. Marcus leads the criminal bunch, including the dull witted One-Round, the spiv Harry Robinson, the cowardly Major Courtney and the unbalanced Romanian Louis Harvey.
The thieves make the show; their dialogue is brilliantly crafted and all of them prove to be skilled and diverse comic actors. Particular mention must go to Paul Bown as Professor Marcus, whose looming presence and increasing frustration is brilliantly executed. Shaun Williamson also pulls off a commanding performance as Harvey. Just over a month after Herbert Lom’s death – the actor who portrayed the gangster so fantastically in the film – this is a perfect tribute.
Despite some technical difficulties, the set is even more impressive. The ramshackle house is actually lopsided and bits of it fall apart, move around when the trains pass and even twist around to show the outside. This comes with almost impossible stage craft, including magic tricks and brilliant physical comedy from William Troughton’s Harry Robinson.
This production more than lives up to The Ladykillers’ legacy and is sure to be everyone’s cup of tea; Mrs Wilberforce will make sure of that.
Run Ends 10th November