The Ladykillers at Gielgud Theatre
Mrs. Wilberforce – Marcia Warren, Professor Marcus – Peter Capaldi, Major Courtney – James Fleet, Louis Harvey – Ben Miller, Harry Robinson – Stephen Wight, One Round – Clive Rowe
An adaptation of the popular 1955 Ealing Comedy film of the same name, The Ladykillers is as sinister as the title implies. A seemingly docile, innocent elderly lady, Mrs Wilberforce, rents out her spare room to an amateur string quintet for rehearsals, unwittingly letting a gang of criminals into her Kings Cross home. Unbeknownst to her, they are planning a heist and intend to use her as an accessory. Through a continually evolving plot which twists and turns right up until the final moments, who will survive as the tables are turned?
The first thing to strike the audience as the curtain rises is the incredible set. Michael Taylor and his creative team are to be applauded for their innovative use of scenery and special effects. Mrs Wilberforce’s subsiding house is intricate, detailed and even rotates to reveal its outside, roof and more. The sound and music deserves a mention too as it creates the sinister atmosphere, as is befitting a black comedy, and builds the tension perfectly. The set and its design never failed to amaze me throughout.
We first see a delicate, timid Mrs Wilberforce describing the suspicious behaviour of a local shop-keeper to a long suffering police constable. It is clear this sweet old lady has had numerous ‘suspicions’ before, all having amounted to nothing as her age and her confused mind comes into play. Marcia Warren is wonderfully convincing in this role and deserves nothing but praise for her performance. No matter how extreme and border-line ridiculous the plot surrounding her became, she never once faltered. I believed her completely.
The Ladykillers has a broad range of villainous characters, each more extreme than the other, to create a highly amusing outcome. Mrs Wilberforce’s seemingly grateful and talented tenants consist of James Fleet playing the nervous Major Courtney, with an amusing bumbling nature and an even more amusing hobby, Stephen Wight as the crazy, pill popping, excitable Harry, and Ben Miller as the suspicious, old-lady fearing Louis. Finally, with great comic timing and a surprisingly caring nature, is Clive Rowe as the simpleton One Round.
This band of misfits is led by the enigmatic Professor Marcus, played by Peter Capaldi. Manipulative and charming, he dupes Mrs Wilberforce into believing the story shrouding the truth of their intentions. The Professor’s smooth exterior gradually cracks towards the climax of the play and we finally see him in a frenzy trying to keep everything from falling apart. Capaldi portrays this in a marvellous way with fantastic facial expressions and lots of comic moments.
Throughout The Ladykillers the Professor, and his band of ‘merry men’, are apparently magnets for disaster. Nevertheless, and this is what I most enjoyed, however panicked and frantic the characters become, they did not cross the line into pantomime. The fine line between farce and pantomime can often be blurred but The Ladykillers succeeded in maintaining the comic value without creating unrealistic caricatures. This success is a combination of excellent writing, direction and stage craft.
I really did laugh watching The Ladykillers, as did the rest of the auditorium. The audience were mainly of an older generation who perhaps remember the Ealing Comedies in their original form, but this play is by no means tailored toward that age range only. The vast majority of the British public will find The Ladykillers extremely funny for many reasons and I personally highly recommend it for an evening of comedy and entertainment. The plot twists and turns continually throughout, particularly in Act II, and the end result is charming. Of course, the details of which, I will not reveal.
13th January 2012