Review – The Ladykillers by Graham Linehan

The Ladykillers by Graham Linehan – New Wolsey Theatre till Sat 30th September

Ealing Comedies were films created in the dark decade after World War Two to lighten the mood of a people beaten down by austerity and rationing. They were light hearted, sometimes a little black humoured, usually starring the same group of actors and a bit like the Carry on Films, very British and very much of their time. The studio ceased production in 1955 and playwright Antony Shaffer had an unsuccessful attempt trying to revive it in the 1990’s, which should tell you something.

The Ladykillers was the last film they made – and is beloved of amateur groups up and down the country, mainly because of the distinctive set of characters and the nostalgia for the past. Its also relatively easy to stage – although there are a few tricky moments when characters have to fall out of windows and be taken away by trains!

The New Wolsey have chosen this play – adapted for the stage by Graham Linehan – as their opening for the Autumn Season – and it must be said all credit to designer Richard Foxton – the set is absolutely magnificent. A complete house seems to take up the entire stage – with the suggestion of railway tracks and signals behind it. As the play starts it opens out into an incredible split level interior – and it also revolves when needed to show the back of the house for scenes involving climbing out of the window and hanging on the roof etc.

But I am afraid the set very much out acts the actors. When we are inside the house we’re very much back in am dram territory – and whether that is the fault of director Peter Rowe insisting on a hammy interpretation – or whether the script doesn’t lend itself to any other way of playing it, the result is a production  that apart from the set wouldn’t be out of place in your average village hall.

The plot is basically a gang of mismatched criminals led by Professor Marcus – played by Steven Elliott with a rather annoyingly over long scarf and very little charisma –  hole up in the rented rooms of dotty old lady Mrs Wilberforce, once again a rather lacklustre performance from Ann Penfold,  to plan their next robbery under the guise of musicians. She believes they are real musicians and invites her friends to a musical evening. They decide to use her to pick up the ill gotten gains from the train station. Farce ensues and then the plot degenerates into a series of unlikely murders. There’s also a parrot involved that has some sort of dreaded disease and so is kept covered over in its cage and intersperses the evening with parrot -like comments.

Of the gang – Sam Lupton as cockney Harry gives it a go – although completely over the top – best of the bunch is Damien Williams playing One Round as a rather more dense version of Tommy Cooper – probably the best written character anyway.

A nice touch is having the old ladies who come to the musical evening at the end of the first half played by members of the community. They certainly livened things up.

There are some funny moments – and the script had got a number of comedy lines in it that will make you smile. But don’t expect anything extra special – apart from the set of course. But even the effects of people falling out of windows was done in a rather ham-fisted and clumsily way.

If you are over a certain age and you want to revel in a bit of nostalgia – this one’s for you. If you’ve seen The Ladykillers done by your local amateur group – you’ve probably seen it as good as it can get.

Suzanne Hawkes

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