The classic Ealing film, The Ladykillers, made in 1955 is still warm in the hearts of cinema goers. It’s the kind of film that you want to be scheduled as a TV re-run on a cold, wet afternoon when there is fruit cake in the cupboard and the kettle is on the gas for endless cups of tea.
To tackle such a classic and translate it to a different medium is a brave thing to undertake but that is what has been done with great success in this stage adaptation by TV comedy writer, Graham Linehan.
The original story came in the form of a dream to screen writer William Rose and tells the tale of a disparate group (‘gang’ would be a misnomer) of eccentric criminals led by Professor Marcus (Paul Bown) who takes lodging with widow woman, the genteel Mrs Wilberforce, (Michele Dotrice) under the guise of being musicians. In reality, they are planning a heist, using the innocent old lady as a foil, which all goes disastrously and madly wrong.
While the original characters all appear, and the story is the same, Linehan has made them his own with richly comic and tightly written dialogue along with some subtle updating. Harry (William Troughton) is now a pill popper with occasional OCD, Louis (Shaun Williamson) is a menace with malapropisms and Major Courtney (Clive Mantle) is a moustachioed cross dresser.
The façade of a quaint old house with warm glowing windows sitting at a railway siding and the anachronistic 1950s’ style announcement that people ‘switch off any telephonic equipment they may have before the show begins’, sets the tone for this lopsided delight.
Mrs Wilberforce has the reputation for crying wolf and she is being gently interviewed by Constable MacDonald (Marcus Taylor), who is slightly reminiscent of Corky in the Sykes comedy series, about her supposedly being on the qui vive with her suspicions of a ‘Nazi’ newsagent. The comic clues are laid out that Mrs W. does not have her ear to the ground.
The utterly magnificent set by Michael Taylor is now the house’s higgledy piggledy interior; the result of bombing and subsidence with squinty floors and squeegee doors like a fantastic cartoon brought to reality. The whole effect was ingenious, particularly the heist scene. (Sorry, no spoilers!)
Even when there was a brief technical hitch, the actors broke down the fourth wall to the delight of the audience. Props move miraculously and magically across the stage at times during the performance and the tunnel scene at the end is nothing short of stupendous.
Luigi Boccherini’s minuet is the one trick pony piece of the unlikely quintet that deludes poor Mrs Wilberforce enough for her to invite her friends to a concert. The ladies, a league of lavender, make an excited if diffident entrance on stage, dressed as if they’d come straight from Stackton Tressel, the home of Dr. Evadne Hinge and Dame Hilda Brackett. They are treated to some avant garde scratchings from the Professor and his cohorts, the scene making a not so subtle comment about art and illusion.
The highly professional cast were a pleasure to watch with Michele Dotrice morphing amazingly to the elderly ‘Mrs. Lopsided’ and the rest of the ‘gang’ suitably cariacatured. Sean Foley brings smooth, slick direction to this glorious piece of macabre comedy that was originally described as “…a delightfully different entertainment.”
Foley writes about the difficulty of categorising the genre of the piece, now with more chaos, farce and slapstick than the original, and rightly opts to stick with that concise and apt description. There may have been little honour among these particular thieves but the show is an absolute steal.
The UK and Ireland tour of The Ladykillers follows the critically acclaimed West End run at London’s Gielgud Theatre. The production was nominated for five awards in the 2012 Laurence Olivier Awards.
Tues 5 November – Sat 10 November 2012, 7.30pm; Matinees Wed & Sat: 2.30pm
£29.50 - £14
0131 529 6000