tue 23/07/2024

The Ladykillers, Vaudeville Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

The Ladykillers, Vaudeville Theatre

The Ladykillers, Vaudeville Theatre

The villainous quintet return to the West End for another heist

Low notes: Ralf Little, Con O'Neill, Simon Day and Chris McCalphy as four of the 'quintet'Dan Tsantilis

The celebrated 1955 Ealing comedy starring Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom was apparently intended as a cartoonish satire of post-war British decline. In 2013, with the Empire long gone and the country struggling in a new age of austerity, what is there to do when contemplating "the state of the nation" but laugh hysterically?

Graham Linehan (writer of Father Ted and The IT Crowd) is the right man for the job, bringing The Ladykillers to the stage with a hefty dollop of lunacy and some spectacular physical comedy, some of it based in music-hall tradition: the Vaudeville Theatre (its second West End venue) is the show's rightful home.

Angela Thorne Chris McCalphy and Ralf LittleLinehan follows the premise of the film whereby a vicious gang of criminals in the guise of a classical string quintet hides in the home of a little old lady, Mrs Wilberforce, who remains blissfully innocent of their intentions. And when she does discover the truth, who will despatch her? While acknowledging his source with affectionate respect, Linehan has gone off on his own wildly inventive comic path. What mild satire remains is at the expense of middle class pretensions, especially of the cultural variety. The most quoted line from the play - and the one which gets the biggest laugh - is uttered by the leader of the gang after they have given an execrable, enthusiastically received musical performance for Mrs Wilberforce's friends: “Being fooled by art is one of the primary pleasures afforded to the middle classes.”

This production was an award-winning hit when it arrived in London from Liverpool Playhouse in 2011. I didn't see it then, but an ace-sounding cast, including Peter Capaldi, Clive Rowe and Marcia Warren, would surely be hard to equal. The new team go for it gamely under Sean Foley's bold direction, which is full of gags that depend on slick choreography and technical felicity. There is, though, a slight sense of a favourite meal warmed over. This may be because there were a few glitches and fluffs on press night. No doubt these will be quickly enough sorted out, but anything less than Rolls Royce perfection in the running of the action throws light on any overworked gags: poor Con O'Neill as Louis, the stereotypical funny foreigner, has to refer to little "oiled" ladies far too often.

There is much to enjoy, though. If John Gordon Sinclair as Professor Marcus seems almost benign compared with Alec Guinness' eerily plausible villain, that is in tune with the feel of the whole piece: a romp without too much of an undertow of menace. Ralf Little's pill-popping spiv, with his disconcerting habit of polishing the furniture when the uppers take over, and mountainous Chris McCalphy as One-Round the dim ex-boxer, add to the mad swirl around Mrs Wilberforce, a bird-like Angela Thorne (pictured above with Chris McCalphy and Ralf Little). Simon Day imbues the Major - now a dreaming transvestite - with a touch of vulnerability as well as expert timing.

Michael Taylor's brilliantly eccentric set - a higgledy-piggledy house with numerous unreliable lamps, furniture which slides every time a train passes and an upstairs room where the "musicians" plan their heist - is almost a character in its own right. And Scott Penrose's clever special effects provide many welcome surprises in this jolly silly-season show.

While acknowledging his source with affectionate respect, Linehan has gone off on his own wildly inventive comic path


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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