What do you get when you cross an eccentric old widow with a gang of undercover criminals? Something rather amusing it seems.
William Rose wrote the screenplay for The Ladykillers in 1955 and the original starred big names like Alec Guiness and Peter Sellers. It was a hit then, and thanks to productions of the relatively recent stage adaptation like this one by Solihull Society of Arts, it’s still a hit now.
The farcical tale follows the story of dotty old lady Mrs Wilberforce (Nicky Ginns) whose company is limited to a rather ill and vocal parrot when a somewhat sinister character calling himself Professor Marcus (Steve Eagles) visits and asks to rent a room in her home.
Unbeknown to the dear old lady, Professor Marcus is a rather outlandish criminal mastermind and the odd collection of 'musicians' he invites over to practice are in fact a group of criminals planning a heist.
Cue a hilarious sequence of events as the gang tries its best to hide the plot from the naïve but inquisitive Mrs Wilberforce who is unwittingly dragged into the robbery herself.
Nicky Ginns masters the physicality and voice of a much older woman and is utterly believable throughout as the well-meaning busybody Wilberforce. And Steve Eagles is wonderfully odd as Professor Marcus; borrowing elements of Alec Guinness’s portrayal in the original film but adding some really thoughtful touches in the form of affected mannerisms and over-enunciation which all add greatly to the humour.
There’s strong support from the Professor’s gang in which Chris Cooper shines as the nervy conman and occasional cross dresser ‘Major’ Courtney. Elsewhere Elliot Sayers is convincing as the hot-headed Romanian Louis Harvey and Jack Walsh and Liam Thorley complete the gang well as the oafish but kind-hearted muscle man ‘One Round’ and the cockney spiv Harry Robinson, who has a somewhat disturbing chemistry with Mrs Wilberforce. Matt Barnard completes the line-up as a slightly dim-witted Constable Macdonald.
A two-storey set divides the action well and the production is sprinkled with some nice technical touches, particularly in a scene where a series of snappy lighting cues demonstrate the completion of the heist. There were a couple of minor hiccups in these which unavoidably diminishes the impact of the gags a little. But with a small crew the production team should be applauded for taking these tricky sequences on and not avoiding them in place of an easier but blander alternative.
In her programme notes young director Kim Bradshaw said she wanted to put her own style on the production and she can rest assured she certainly has. This is a thoughtful, well-executed and charming production of a classic British farce.
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