The original film was made in the 1950’s and a remake was released in 2004. This stage adaptation was written by Father Ted and IT Crowd mastermind Graham Linehan. The play doesn’t try to overcomplicate the plot or make major changes. The effortless simplicity combined with brilliant one-liners and the cast’s perfect comic timing makes this theatre version much more than a film reworking; this production is fantastic in its own right.
Professor Marcus (Paul Brown) takes a room as a lodger with Mrs Wilberforce (Michele Dotrice), who kindly allows the Professor’s string quartet to practice in his bedroom. Unbeknown to the landlady, the Professor is in fact a crook, planning a robbery with his motley crew of accomplices; the Major, One-Round, Harry and Louis. Mrs Wilberforce is known by the local police as a busybody; accusing the local newsagent of being a Nazi, for example. However, when it comes to the Professor’s group, she is none the wiser; begging them to perform a concert for her after hearing a CD playing on loop during their ‘rehearsals’.
The Major provided the majority of the laughs. His penchant for cross-dressing was revealed as he paraded around singing and holding up one of Mrs Wilberforce’s dresses, believing he was home alone. When he is discovered by two of his criminal friends, his defence is that he merely “fell against the dress whilst singing.”
A gaggle of old ladies attend Mrs Wilberforce’s soiree, where the string quartet are forced to perform their post-modern, experimental composition (an excuse which masks their inability to actually play). The giggling, flirtatious reaction of these women (or men dressed as) to the string quartet is infectious and hysterical.
The tilting set of Mrs Wilberforce’s house inside-and-out is quirky and endearing. Her kitchen area is realistic and welcoming, with her constant Mrs Doyle-esque offers of tea. Remote control cars are used to re-enact the gang’s robbery against the side of the house, using the bricks as the road; an innovative presentation, which was captivating. Unplanned but gathering more laughter were the two instances where the fabulous props failed the cast; the rooftop of the house failing to turn around fully and One-Round’s cello case refusing to open. The cast’s professional yet amused reaction to these instances added to the atmosphere of light-hearted fun.
As a huge Father Ted fan, I went along to The Ladykillers with high expectations of Graham Linehan; he didn’t disappoint. With slapstick humour and innuendos aplenty, a night with The Ladykillers will certainly put a big, cheeky smile on your face.
The Ladykillers plays at The Lyceum, Sheffield until Saturday 6 October. For tickets or more information call the box office on 0114 249 6000 or go to www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk