Carrying more dodgy business cards than a Soho telephone box, The Ladykillers have rustled into town and are looking to steal your grandma’s most prized Royal Doulton. Meet the debonair Professor Marcus and his kindly squad of oddball crooks, a group of “classical musicians” who take up residence in the home of a widow to evade police suspicion as they plan a £200,000 heist. There will be violence; there will be duplicity; there will be fear; there will be more cups of tea than a Women’s Institute Convention.
A noble bunch of gentlemen thieves, the effortlessly egregious cast of The Ladykillers casually put the “rat” in “aristocrat”. Paul Brown is the very epitome of the maniacal middle-classes as “Professor” Marcus, as cool and intelligent in his delivery as he is brutal and calculating. As the doting and dithery old-lady of the house, Michele Dotrice is wonderfully tweet, vulnerable yet commanding in presence, sweet as strawberry jam and warm as a freshly baked scone.
Perhaps the greatest pleasure of Sean Foley’s production is its stagecraft. Michael Taylor’s design of Mrs Wilberforce’s subsiding house is a modern marvel, inventive and ingenious, an English Escher print of impossibly angled staircases, tilting post-Victoriana chintz bedrooms and shrinking, growing corridors which disappear into nowhere. James Farncombe’s lighting, too, creates a sense of genre-specific comic drama which is at times lacking in Father Ted writer Graham Linehan’s script.
And there is the sole surprise of The Ladykillers: as a play, it is not nearly as funny as its creative pedigree would suggest. It’s a funny play, of course, but becomes far too stylistically dependent on sight gags, stereotypes and farce at the expense of wit and clean comedy. Several of its jokes are overdone to the point of repetitiveness and its gratuitous slapstick element at times makes Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson’s Bottom seem as controlled as an episode of Downton Abbey.
The last fifteen minutes of the piece are undoubtedly its greatest, racking up the tension as the plan grinds to its inevitable conclusion and finding a sense of comedic drama which are somewhat lacking throughout. This admirable farce of stereotype and social sensibility will raise a smile, yes, but never quite manages to raise the roof.
"The Ladykillers" is at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until Saturday 24 November, 2012.