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The Ladykillers (Southampton - tour)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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What fun.

Graham Linehan (Father Ted, IT Crowd, Black Books)'s excellent rehash of the iconic Ealing black comedy The Ladykillers is on tour and is a gentle, slapstick, laugh-out-loud evening for all.

Amongst a most capable cast, Michele Dotrice (Betty in Some Mother's Do 'Ave 'Em) steals the show as the sweet old lady Mrs Wilberforce whose lodger is not quite as he seems.

Faultless in character with superb nuances, Dotrice's lopsided lady is dottily moral and a bane to the local police force.

Her rickety house is a work of art designed by Michael Taylor whose set was rightly nominated for an Olivier Award - it is skewed, quirky and superbly mobile when the trains leaving the neighbouring Kings Cross station whizz past.

The complexly interesting house has clever flying flaps to switch the action to outside to allow rooftop confrontations, the heist itself (played with Scaletrix-type vehicles) and the ever-present railway.

The criminal mastermind 'the Professor' is played by Paul Bown (Watching, Britz, Holby City's Philip Reid) whose cadaverous, olegenious presence is convincing enough to banish for the evening memories of Alec Guinness in the original.

His scarf becomes one of the somewhat overworked comedic devices, but who cares?, and one which persists to the bitter end. Literally.

Assembling an oddball gang, under the guise of a string quartet, the crime is plotted, practised and polished, and all the while tea is served in fine china with the assistance of a mallet.

Clive Mantle (Vicar of Dibley, Jus' Like That and Mike Barrett in Casualty/Holby City) is cowardly, closet transvestite Major Courtney played with a soupcon of the John Cleese and a great deal of charm while William Troughton (Speilberg's War Horse) is the young, pill-popping Harry keen to clean when the red ones bite and cringingly accident-prone.

Voice-over artist and West End stalwart Chris McCalphy is the desperately dim gentle giant One Round while Shaun Williamson (EastEnders, Extras, Back On The Job) is sinisterly psychotic as Louis the Romanian Mafia knifeman with a fear of only the blue-rinse brigade.

Surprisingly true to the William Rose screenplay, there are a couple of departures which are worthy of the original - the avant-garde concert and cupboard conference allows some wry commentary on the craft and mental state of the artist and art's middle class patrons.

A delightful, no-depth-of-thought-needed, farce.


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