It could be a thankless task to bring to the stage one of the nation’s best loved comedy classic films. Comparisons are bound to be made, with the film often coming off best.
But Graham Lineham succeeded with his 2011 adaptation of The Ladykillers receiving critical acclaim for his efforts. He captured the madcap goings-on of the original Ealing Comedy, while injecting the same offbeat wit and lightheartedness that endeared us to his immortal Father Ted.
So, with such a pedigree to live up to, how did the cast fare in The Ladykillers at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre week? The answer is ‘very well indeed’. Director Lee Lyford gave us a production that sparkled from the off: funny, frenzied and farcical, but without slipping into downright farce. A scene with five guys in a tiny cupboard was a particular joy.
Set in 1956, it’s about a gang of screwball robbers who, posing as a string quartet, meet regularly in the top floor room of a Kings Cross house to plan a heist. But their plans go fatally awry when they find their lovely little old landlady isn’t quite so easy to fool as they think.
Designer Simon Kenny had worked wonders with the small Watermill stage, turning it into a two-floored terraced house overlooking the railway, with dodgy lighting, wonky stairs and uneven floors (caused by wartime subsidence). Watching the actors negotiate the hazards added to the enjoyment.
The cast were clever caricatures of the oddball villains they were portraying: from the exaggerated gestures of heist mastermind Professor Marcus (Paul Mundell) to headcase Romanian hitman Louis (John Biddle). Added to that were OCD scrubbing fetishist Harry (Harry Katsari), boxing punchbag One Round (Alan Stocks) and a cross-dressing Major (Dermot Canavan). Little old lady Mrs Wilberforce was played by an excellent Marlene Sidway.
This show was sheer escapist pleasure, daft and dippy, but fun just to sit back and enjoy. We were even treated to some of the bogus quartet’s own music which, as expected, was awful. But as their leader Professor Marcus proclaimed: “it’s art and being fooled by art is one of the pleasures of the middle classes.” It brought the house down.
Runs till October 31.