Venue: The Drama Barn
The Ladykillers is perhaps the epitome of British comedy: superficially genteel, but with a much darker, sardonic undertone. Taking the best parts of the original 1955 Ealing Studios film and heightening them, Graham Linehan’s (Father Ted) script remains faithful to the concept, without simply copying the film onto the stage. The highly talented cast, hilarious stage-play and inventive set design successfully combine to produce a very enjoyable production.
Posing as musicians, Professor Marcus (James McIlwrath) and his gang of crooks rent a room in the house of the well-mannered Mrs Wilberforce (Emma Wright). Unfortunately for them, Mrs Wilberforce continually interrupts their planning with offerings of tea and requests for live performances. The assorted gang of the pill-popping Harry (Callum Sharp), murderous Louis (Jack Tindle), dress-loving Major Courtney (Conor Geoghegan) and useless One-Round (Alex McLintock) grow increasingly frustrated with her interruptions. Yet, Marcus builds the innocent old lady into their plans and her appeal for them to play at her tea party is accepted; an acceptance that backfires spectacularly when a hoard of elderly women (some with “interesting” facial hair) descend upon the house. As the plan spirals out of control, one by one the gang members find themselves on the roof of a train…
The ensemble nature of the show allows each actor and character several moments to shine, without any dominating the production. Emma Wright wonderfully brings the timid Mrs Wilberforce to life. The character is provided with a sense of underlying decency and grit; although principally the weakest person in the house and continually misled by the crooks, her courage in standing up for what she believes to be right is terrifically portrayed. At times McIlwrath appears to be channeling Alec Guinness’ original portrayal of Marcus, yet he too builds upon the original by bringing a slightly different twist on the role.
Major Courtney sees the biggest change from the film; he now has a fondness for women’s clothing. Geoghegan deftly exploits every comedic moment within the part. It is just a shame there is no final pay-off for the Major and his love of dresses; the curtain call would have been a terrific opportunity for a final joke. The violence inflicted upon Callum Sharp’s character had some in the audience worrying for his welfare, which is probably the greatest compliment that can be paid towards slapstick stage acting. The timing for most of these moments was spot-on and added great value to the production. Tindle’s portrayal of the villainous Louis was rooted in the sense of realism that is necessary for the comedic moments to arise; an undercurrent of real threat is continually present, which enhances the scope of the play.
Alex McLintock as One-Round comes closest to stealing the show. The part of the comedy simpleton has the potential to be rather repetitive, but McLintock finds several moments of pathos that add a terrific element of emotion into the otherwise anarchic play. One Round’s protection of “Mrs Lopsided” from his associated and his subsequent demise were a real highlight.
Jess Corner’s set design took full advantage of the (limited) stage area and created a very authentically stereotypical English house for Mrs Wilberforce. The direction, lighting and sound design faithfully brought the Ealing comedy back to life. The limitations of the space did lead to a couple of awkward moments where the comedic flow had to be halted for a scene change, which was particularly notable in the second act, but these were very minor occurrences.
Although with some violent and black comic elements, Linehan’s script uses William Rose’s initial screenplay and develops it into a much broader comedy that works tremendously well even in the confined space of The Drama Barn. Every part of the production unites to create a unique, compelling and entertaining show.