Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Review The Ladykillers

The Ladykillers
adapted by Graham Linehan
from the motion picture screenplay by William Rose

Five Fellas And A Little Lady

Watching this touring production of The Ladykillers, a stage adaptation of the classic black comedy where a criminal gang divides and falls, TLT and her little getaway car suddenly had a startling thought.

Was this 1955 Ealing comedy part of the inspiration for scenes where the crime boss wacks other members of his gang in Martin Scorsese's Good Fellas?

Certainly there's a certain rhythm and black humour accompanying the macabre demise of the American mobsters that parallels the break up of the Ealing Comedy criminal quintet. And it turns out Martin Scorsese is an admirer of the original movie.

Yet this film noir edge is often rather diminished in Graham Linehan's serviceable but uneven script matched by an up-and-down - in all senses of the word - production  directed by Peter Rowe. 

The stage play, despite some 1950s' news references, becomes a stolid broad farce rather than a resonant mix of sinister Graham Greene welfare state villains with eccentric Edwardian shabby gentility of a bygone imperial age.

Nevertheless there's a pleasing cartoonish quality to the revolving set. A crooked nursery rhyme house meets Hitchcockian Gothic mansion with turret chimneys designed by Richard Foxton which opens out to reveal the unrenovated two-storey home overlooking a railway line.

Posing as a group of amateur musicians searching for rehearsal space, a motley collection of outlaws gather in a room rented by the gang leader Professor Marcus (Steven Elliot) from dotty widow Mrs Wilberforce (Ann Penfold). 

Cue the arrival of the Major, an apparent war hero fallen on hard times, (Graham Seed),  a punch drunk veteran of fixed boxing matches (Damian Williams), a younger pill popping petty criminal  (Sam Lupton) and a sinister foreign assassin (Anthony Dunn).  

They're all stock figures from 1950s' British studio crime and comedy movies who meet an immoveable force in the little white haired landlady who inadvertently causes their downfall. 

The outstanding performances of the evening come from Lupton's hyperactive spiv and Willliams's slow-witted lumbering heavy who gradually wises up. A couple of the villains' role feel underwritten and the production never fully lands despite a much stronger second act. 

Still, TLT did utter the occasional guffaw and her motorised henchman gave the occasional exhaust pipe cackle of laughter as the play eventually gathered momentum. Frustratingly though, much of the rest felt rather laboured in a spluttering production enlivened by moments of energy and it's a flickering amber light.

The Ladykillers continues at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch until Saturday, October 21 when it will transfer to The Salisbury Playhouse from Tuesday, October 31 to Saturday, November 18.

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