Deliciously Dark and Delightfully Deadly
The Ladykillers at the Lichfield Garrick
31 January 2018 – Main Auditorium
When I was growing up one of my favourite films was The Ladykillers, one of the last great Ealing Studio comedies from the 1950s and starring Herbert Lom, Katie Johnson (who won a BAFTA best actress award for her role), the sublime Alec Guinness and a young Peter Sellers, it was a fabulously dark comedy about a naïve little old lady (Johnson) who unwittingly despatches a gang of madcap robbers led by the cultured, but increasingly ruffled, Guinness.
Ignoring the 2004 film remake by the Coen brothers (and it’s best too!) the TV writer Graham Linehan (of Father Ted fame) has written a version for the stage and it is this version that the Lichfield Players have put on as their latest play at the Lichfield Garrick.
Set in the early 1950s, the plot revolves around a sweet little old lady, the widowed Mrs Wilberforce, who lives in a crumbling house right next to Kings Cross railway station and who only has a diseased macaw parrot and her paranoia about Nazi war criminals living across the street to keep her company.
She is visited by the smooth, urbane ‘Professor’ Marcus who wants to hire her spare room while he and his string quartet practice for a concert they are giving in a couple of weeks’ time. Unbeknown to Mrs Wilberforce Marcus and his rag-tag gang are in actual fact serial robbers, plotting their latest heist, a raid on a security van that will net them a cool £20,000 in shiny new £5 notes.
Mrs Wilberforce gladly makes them tea and sandwiches while a radiogram mimics their violin and cello concert practice and is so impressed by their playing she even ‘books’ them to play to her afternoon tea soiree with her elderly friends.
With the heist completed, and their true identities and motives finally revealed to Mrs Wilberforce, they plot to silence her for good, but there is no honour amongst thieves and they manage to bump off each other rather than their intended victim until there is only one man left standing to face off against the octogenarian OAP. But who will win the final showdown – and who will be left with the money?
Linehan’s script has brought the play up to date but it still retains that lovely old Ealing Studio feel to it and, if you have seen the original 1955 film, then you will definitely empathise with the nature and character of it. It’s funny, with plenty of witty lines and snappy dialogue, it has some slapstick elements but it is mainly the word-play and interaction between the diverse range of characters that entertains. Ian Davies as the Professor is tall, refined, smooth and charming as he battles both with Mrs Wilberforce, played with delicate and genteel charm by Lynne Young, and his bungling band of hapless robbers. Greg Spencer is excellent as the twitching, pill-popping, convulsing cockney spiv ‘Arry (think George Cole in St Trinians!), Adrian Venables is menacing, but also vulnerable, as hired hitman Louis while Peter Carrington-Porter plays ex-Army man Major Courtney, who has a love for wearing a pretty dress as well as an army tunic. Ian Parkes is loveable lug Mr Lawson, alias One Round, an ex boxer who has clearly had what little brains he had punched out of him in the ring and unintentionally gives the plot away to Mrs Wilberforce at regular intervals. He has some great lines as well as a great presence and is the only character who feels generally sorry for, and affectionate towards, Mrs Wilberforce – despite this he meets with a most gruesome end! Andy Jones as the long suffering neighbourhood beat bobby Constable Macdonald provides good support and Mrs Wilbeforces’ Society of Ladies get a great laugh as they rush the faux string quartet at their tea party ‘performance’ as though they are One Direction!
The set design by Andrew Bodger is clever and imaginative as it depicts three levels of a house, as well as a train track and station and swivels round to show both the inside and outside of the house – and all with a few ‘swings’ of scenery boards!
Director Chris Stanley, last seen playing Frank in the hilarious A Kick in the Baubles ‘anti’ Christmas play, keeps the pace flowing very nicely, and there are lots of comedic touches and visual running gags.
The Ladykillers is a nostalgic nod to the time when British comedy films ruled the cinema and dominated the awards’ ceremonies, with a clever, witty script and played with obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm by the cast. For myself it brought back happy memories of sitting round the family black and white TV and watching the original film which is a testament to how well the Lichfield Players have captured the spirit of the original. A sustained and vibrant round of applause at the curtain call showed that the very knowledgeable Garrick audience definitely enjoyed it too!
Ladykillers is on at the Lichfield Garrick main auditorium from Thursday 1 February to Saturday 3 February at 7.30pm with a matinee on Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets, priced £15-16, are available from the Garrick Box Office (during opening hours) on Castle Dyke, ring 01543 42121 or email: email@example.com
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