Watermill Theatre - The Ladykillers
24th September to 21st October 2015.
Review from Newbury Theatre.
Mrs Wilberforce may seem to be a batty old lady, but her moral integrity is the downfall of the gang of crooks posing as an amateur string quintet who rent her spare room to plan their heist.
The leader of the gang, and the brains, is ‘Professor’ Marcus and his assorted crew are the con-man Major, wide boy Harry, sinister Romanian Louis and punch-drunk One-Round. After successfully stealing £200,000, things start to unravel when Mrs Wilberforce sees the money.
Graham Linehan (Father Ted, The IT Crowd) adapted The Ladykillers from the 1955 film, keeping it in the same period around the time of the Suez crisis. The action is squashed onto The Watermill’s small stage, which works well with the farcical aspects of the plot.
Paul Mundell was a tour de force as Marcus; with his manic eyes, flamboyant gestures and oleaginous patter he reminded me of Alistair Sim on speed. The Major with the odd predilection (Dermot Canavan) was suitably nervous and shifty, and Harry (Harry Katsari) – more Private Pike than Private Walker – got some good laughs from his obsessive polishing after popping his uppers and downers.
John Biddle was Louis (I couldn’t quite work out the accent) and Alan Stocks was a confused but loveable One-Round. Marlene Sidaway was perfect as the old lady who refused to be cowed by the gangsters. Matthew Alexander was good as the Constable, patiently dealing with Mrs W’s unlikely stories.
And we mustn’t forget the cast of old lady extras (including, I think, Matthew Alexander!) sourced from the local community.
Yes, the characters are caricatures, and it’s all a bit silly, but Linehan’s skilful writing provides some great comedy – the impromptu concert by the gang, watched by the increasingly incredulous old ladies was delightful; well done, ladies.
The set was by Simon Kenny, who also designed the very impressive sets for Sleuth and Sherlock’s Last Case. It crammed a huge amount into the space and had a clever reveal of the roof above the railway line, although it wasn’t initially clear that the final scene was on the line, not the roof. The actual robbery was shown in ingenious silhouettes, plus a model railway.
Director Lee Lyford made good use of his talented cast to provide a wacky production with some hilarious moments.
Review from the British Theatre Guide.
The Ladykillers by Graham Lineham is the last production for Hedda Beeby as Artistic Director of the Watermill Theatre who will be leaving after 8 years and handing over the reigns to Paul Hart. What a choice to say farewell, as this production is an absolute delight from start to finish: a sure-fire winner.
It is based on the 1955 classic comedy movie made at Ealing Studios that had Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom amongst the cast.
Director Lee Lyford has magically reworked this story creating an inventive, funny and highly enjoyable production and is blessed with a stellar company of actors to work with.
Simon Kenny’s wonderful multi-level set design perfectly captures the lopsided, rickety house that’s suffering from subsidence with doors at odd-shaped angles and a precarious rake in the bedroom. Look out for the ingenious scenes on the rooftop, but I wont spoil the effect.
The elderly Mrs Wilberforce, splendidly played by Marlene Sidaway, lives alone with her ailing parrot, General Gordon. She is the thorn in the side of the local police but young constable Macdonald (Matthew Alexander) is understanding and reassures her that there is nothing to worry about.
An advert in the post office to rent out one of her bedrooms is quickly answered by Professor Marcus, a tour-de-force performance from Paul Mundell. He is the leader of a gang of criminals who plan to pull a heist and rob a train at Kings Cross station.
He has a motley crew of henchmen to assist him. John Biddle is the Romanian killer who has hatred of old ladies. The Major (Dermot Canavan) has a penchant for wearing women’s dresses, and then there is the spiv Harry (Harry Katsari) who needs to take his pills to function, has a cleaning obsession and can’t quite shrug off his thieving ways when he pockets Mrs Wilberforce’s candlesticks.
Completing this gang is Alan Stocks as One-Round, an ex-boxer who only lasted one round in a fight. He’s rather dim but has a sentimental side to his character.
As a cover, they convince Mrs Wilberforce that they are a musicians in a string quartet who need to rehearse whilst in reality planning their robbery. The results are hilarious.
There is an ongoing gag with a blackboard and the professor’s scarf that is executed with perfect comic timing. Plus a wonderful moment when the entire gang hide in a small under-stairs cupboard and try to explain their way out of their predicament.
They inveigle Mrs Wilberforce to collect a trunk from the station containing the money and she persuades them to play a concert for her geriatric friends. The gang try to get away with persuading the audience that their awful performance is in fact avant-garde music with the professor explaining, “being fooled by art is one of the primary pleasures offered to the middle classes.”
When Mrs Wilberforce discovers their true intentions, the gang plot to kill her so they can escape with the money, but will they have the guts to carry out this plan?
This captivating and entertaining show is full of surprises and is a palpable hit.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Classic Ealing comedy
The Watermill brings old favourite The Ladykillers gloriously to life
The Ladykillers, at The Watermill. Bagnor, until Saturday October 31
In spite of being all about crime and criminals, there is nevertheless something rather cosy about Graham Linehan's play. This has nothing to do with the cups of tea with which dear old Mrs Wilberforce (the excellent Marlene Sidaway) plies the gang of crooks renting her spare room, but more to do with memories of those wonderful Ealing comedies, peppered with laughter whatever the subject.
The gang, headed by 'Professor' Marcus (Paul Mundell) are ostensibly practising for a concert, but in reality they are out to plan a robbery which will make all five members rich for life.
The gullible, sweet Mrs Wilberforce, who already has a reputation with a particularly sympathetic police constable Macdonald (Matthew Alexander) for making a fuss about nothing, is completely taken in and eventually is unwittingly drawn into helping the gang bring the cash back to her house. It is at this point that some familiar local faces appear as members of Mrs Wilberforce's Loose Elderly Women Club.
When at last she realises the truth, Mrs Wilberforce is determined to ring the police. There only seems to be one action which will save the situation for the gang, but which of them can bear to carry it out?
Marlene Sidaway is brilliant as the old dear trying to do her best and the crooks are gloriously brought to life so vividly that you end up liking the Vicious' Louis (John Biddle), young pill-popping Harry (Harry Katsari), the bumbling Major (Dermot Canavan) and the endearing thicko, ex-boxer One-Round (Alan Stocks). Paul Mundell as the Professor has the task of sweet-talking Mrs Wilberforce into believing they are all amateur musicians and has wonderful lines, telling one of his gang "were you even less involved in this robbery you'd be working for the police" and commenting that the atmosphere was "getting terribly morbid" after a death – or two.
The ingenious set, part of which cleverly turns into a roof scene, is packed with impedimenta, including a parrot cage containing Mrs W's sole companion, a 'diseased cockatoo', General Gordon, who needs help.
The fact that a magic consultant is listed among the production team is just one more indication that this old favourite, directed by Lee Lyford, is one not to miss.
There's are reviews from the Slough Observer ("a production that sparkled from the off... sheer escapist pleasure, daft and dippy, but fun just to sit back and enjoy") and The Stage ("ticks all the boxes" - 3 stars).