The Ladykillers

The classic 1955 black comedy film, The Ladykillers, was adapted for the stage by Graham Linehan (co-creator of Father Ted) in 2011.  It may or may not be the greatest of the Ealing comedies, but it is certainly the one that immediately suggests itself as theatrical. The story remains the same – a group of crooks pose as musicians while planning to rob a security van. Their plotting takes place under the nose of their kindly, if eccentric, landlady Mrs Wilberforce. Her trusting nature seems initially to be a help, but her strong moral compass eventually proves something of a hindrance!

Linehan tweaks the original screenplay rather than revamping it. It is a clever modernisation that notably ups the swear quotient, and by recasting it as a period piece brings some of the darker themes into sharper focus while retaining the comedy of the original.

Anyone playing the gang’s leader, Professor Marcus, is always going to have a hard job banishing Alec Guinness from the audience’s thoughts, but Alistair Burn does a fine job, combining an oily gentlemanliness with hints of depravity.  He is more than matched by Kate Nichols as Mrs Wilberforce, foiling several of his ideas with her innocence and openness.

The rest of the cast are also most impressive. Lawrence Chandler as the punch drunk boxer One-Round manages to give the stereotypical character a genuinely sympathetic side. Glyn Casswell’s cleaning-obsessed spiv Harry Robinson is equally convincing, while Allan Jones as the ageing con man, Major Courtney, evokes pleasing memories of countless similar characters from British comedy.

Aiden West as Louis, shows how far he has come in his acting career with a faultless performance as the ‘comedy evil foreigner’ character.  Sadly this was Aidan’s last production for Gainford Drama Club for the foreseeable future as he is now off to take up acting as a career and has a place at the Birmingham School of Acting at the Royal Conservatoire.  He will be sadly missed.

Michelle Hope’s cameo as the put-upon Constable MacDonald adds a layer of welcome sanity, while Ronnie Lowery supplies a haughty grandeur to Mrs Tromleyton, leader of a large and oddly assorted ‘Society of Women’.

The pace of the show  is exemplary, with the first act dialogue building to some beautifully timed and hilarious moments in the second half.  Overall, there is a clever balance between characterisation, darker moments and humour that makes this a very accomplished production.