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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Ladykillers

Being fooled by art is one of the primary pleasures afforded to the middle classes. — Professor Marcus
The Ladykillers
Back Row Ben Miles, Peter Capaldi and James Fleet. Front Row: Clive Rowe, Marcia Warren and Stephen Wight
(Photo: Hugo Glendinning)
I think gentle readers that I had better come clean and say that next to slapstick, my least favourite comedy form is farce. So what am I to make of the theatrical version of a 1955 comedy thriller which reinvented for the stage by Graham Lineham and Sean Foley relies heavily on slapstick and takes The Marx Brothers twinned with Reservoir Dogs as its inspiration? I am not one of the film’s devotees who hates to see anything being tampered with that they loved the original of but neither did this production make me laugh out loud although there were plenty in the audience who did so.

The set is amazing, a higgledy piggledy Edwardian villa which pivots to reveal the exterior, the steep roof and up the walls car chases with miniature cars. The set itself is stuffed full of frippery and crooked shelves and each time an express train thunders through, the furniture shakes or swivels or judders. The magic effects are from Scott Penrose and impressive. We even see a huge railway tunnel in one of the outside scenes.

A bunch of robbers led by Peter Capaldi as the fake Professor Marcus rent some rooms from little old lady Marcia Warren as Mrs Louisa Wilberforce, who has already been wasting police time with her overactive imagination and conspiracy theories about Nazis hiding in London. Mrs Wilberforce is a Naval Officer’s widow living with a diseased parrot called General Gordon. Under the guise of being musicians, Professor Marcus is joined by spiv Harry Robinson (Stephen Wight) whose main role is to get hit by the revolving blackboard (one side is music, the other a map of where the robbery is to take place. Clive Rowe is the brain damaged boxer One Round, James Fleet is a conman Major Courtney and finally Ben Miller is Louis Harvey, a sinister Romanian, sharp suited gangster with a bad temper. Mrs Wilberforce is onto the robbers and in the second act their job is to murder her to prevent her giving their game away but they are foiled at every turn. Mrs Wilberforce invites all her friends round (mostly understudying men in ladies’ garb) for a concert from the non musicians and their work is widely praised as ground breaking. Ear splitting more like!

The performances seemed rather forced with Peter Capaldi’s over the top professor with his mouth frozen lop sidedly as if he had suffered a stroke in charge. James Fleet’s gentle major lusts after a pretty purple frock and Clive Rowe is magnificent, as ever, as the brain challenged boxer who tries to play his ’cello by putting it under his chin. Poor Stephen Wight recovers endlessly from being bashed and Ben Miller is genuinely sinister as the dangerously volatile Romanian. Marcia Warren as Mrs Wilberforce, who must have been top of the casting agents wish list, outwits the lot of them but the thrills of her near misses at the hands of the villains are never unexpected.

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The Ladykillers
Written by Graham Lineham
From the Motion Picture screenplay by William Rose and by special arrangement with StudioCanal
Directed by Sean Foley

Starring: Marcia Warren, Peter Capaldi, James Fleet, Ben Miller, Clive Rowe, Stephen Wight
With: Harry Peacock, Beverley Walding, Lace Akpojaro, Marcus Taylor, William Troughton
Designed by Michael Taylor
Lighting: James Farncombe
Composition and Sound: Ben and Max Ringham
Special Effects by Scott Penrose
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5130
Booking to 18th February 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th December 2011 performance at The Gielgud, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1V 8AR (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)

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