Review: The Ladykillers

“Would you like some tea?”

By Tom Barry

Nestled in post-war North London, the home of one Mrs. Wilberforce is descended upon by a cabal of clandestine criminals intent on grand larceny. Adapted by acclaimed comedy writer Graham Linehan, this period farce is laced with caricature and humour enough to stun a parrot.

The character is well-realised, each providing a delightful counterbalance to the whole ensemble, and managing to feel fresh despite conforming to archetypes (and in some cases stereotypes). The gentle, elderly Mrs. Wilberforce (Emma Wright) is played with such sweetness and endearment that even the hardest of hearts would melt, while the dastardly Professor Marcus (James McIllwrath) is arrogant and manipulative to a fault. As an ensemble piece, the play works well, but with some disparity in tone between the individual performers: at times it sometimes feels as if they are all playing from their own score. The set (Jess Corner) is well observed, and it is telling of the kind of plays which have graced this particular stage recently, that a quite ordinary living room, complete with aged wallpaper and generous decoration, is aesthetically a breath of fresh air.

The gentle, elderly Mrs. Wilberforce is played with such sweetness and endearment that even the hardest of hearts would melt, while the dastardly Professor Marcus is arrogant and manipulative to a fault.

As the central plot device spins inevitably out of control and the thieves’ honour is shown for the fairytale it is, the cast hurtle towards their respective sticky conclusions. The biggest challenge in staging was the division between the two rooms, the living room and the room let to the bank robbers as a base for the culmination of their scheme; with clever lighting (Hamish McLellan) and a subtle use of levels the illusion is maintained admirably, even when the action suddenly switches to a lofty precipice above an active train line. Similarly the actors themselves should be commended for carrying off characters so far removed from themselves; Conor Geoghegan is a startlingly convincing nervous geriatric.

Of course the quality of any comedy can be judged only by whether it makes you laugh, and this one certainly did. Several standout performances elevate this potentially grating farce to a well-rounded show, with the energy dropping occasionally due to a rather crowded stage and jarring scene transitions, but the script’s superlative flair shines through.

The Ladykillers, written by Graham Linehan, directed by Guy Matthews. Performing at the Drama Barn on Saturday the 28th of May and Sunday the 29th of May at 7:30pm. Tickets available online and on the door for £4/5.

Photos courtesy of Amelia Hamilton.

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