Theatre Review – 'The Ladykillers'

Posted by Alexander Hay

Graham Linehan's adaptation of the Ealing Comedy classic is a risk, but he and director Sean Foley have come up with their own laudable new version of The Ladykillers (Gielgud Theatre)

To kill a little old lady...Posing as an amateur musician, the saturnine Professor Marcus and his musical troupe of ne’er-do-wells rent rooms in the lopsided King’s Cross house of sweet but strict widow Mrs Wilberforce, The villains plot to involve her unwittingly in Marcus’s brilliantly conceived heist job.

At first, Mrs Wilberforce believes this gang of criminal misfits are actually members of a classic string quartet in rehearsal, despite them showing no trace of musical talent.

The police are left stumped but Mrs Wilberforce becomes wise to their ruse and Marcus concludes that there is only one way to keep the old lady quiet. With only her talkative parrot, General Gordon, to help her, she is alone with five desperate men. But who will be forced to face the music?

Mixing elements of farce, thriller, ghostly chiller and morality tale, this is a bleakly comic play with topical gags that nonetheless remains true to the spirit of the original.

“What is the difference between robbing a bank and founding one?” Professor Marcus asks Mrs Wilberforce. “It’s a crime”, she replies, to which the Professor responds, “But which one?” And when the Professor is forced to stage an impromptu concert for the old lady and her friends, he attributes the terrible cacophony produced as being a fine example of the latest avant-garde music.

The robbery itself is cleverly – and amusingly – recreated using miniaturised toy cars and fireworks, while Michael Taylor’s imaginatively realised, versatile set shakes and dims the lights every time a train roars by outside, giving the play a suitably atmospheric feel.

Peter Capaldi, long coat and scarf flowing, and with the manner of a demonic magician excels as the shady Professor, a role originally played by Alec Guinness in the Alexander Mackendrik film. James Fleet delights as a bogus major with a habit of dressing up in, women’s clothes, and Clive Rowe relishes his role as a dim-witted ex-boxer who repeatedly loses track of his cover story.

Meanwhile, Stephen Wight convinces as a pill-popping wide boy who is continually being hit in the face, and Ben Miller is perfect as the nervy foreign knifeman with a paranoid fear of old ladies. Best of all, though, is Marcia Warren, who brings a note of poignancy to the sweetly innocent Mrs Wilberforce.

This is an affectionate, often hilarious production which provides an evening to cherish in the theatre.

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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