The WhatsOnStage Award-winning comedy returns to the West End for a run at the Vaudeville Theatre, with a new cast led by John Gordon Sinclair and Angela Thorne
The Ladykillers are back in town, with an all-new cast led by John Gordon Sinclair alongside TV funnymen Simon Day and Ralf Little. But the real star of the show is unchanged - Michael Taylor's mesmerising box-of-tricks set, which still causes the jaw to drop when it first revolves into view.
Adapted from the classic Ealing comedy starring Alec Guinness, the plot is near-perfect for stage farce; a gang of bank robbers hide out in King's Cross by disguising themselves as an amateur string quintet. The catch is not just their total inability as musicians, but their fatal undermining of their tea-making septuagenarian landlady, Mrs Wilberforce.
Playing the meddling matriarch this time round is Angela Thorne, who struggled on the line front on opening night but nevertheless brought the house down with her insistence that tea time is at 3pm, not 5. "Our tea time is early - we're old, we get up at 4.30!"
I wasn't completely sold on Graham Linehan's adaptation the first time round, and my feelings remain unchanged after a second look. Though there are a few killer lines (pardon the pun), most of the laughs stem not from the rather tepid script but from the physical comedy choreographed by director Sean Foley (and, on opening night, a fair few came courtesy of a malfunctioning blackboard). The comic high point remains the appearance of a gaggle of over-excited old ladies who turn up to hear the gangsters give a Boccherini recital.
The new cast are a generally accomplished gang, each mining new laughs in often unexpected areas. Chris McCalphy is a particular joy as the hulking, slack-jawed One-Round, who holds his cello like a violin on first sighting. And the ever-watchable Con O'Neill does his best with the rather underwritten Louis, a hard-edged Romanian with a morbid fear of "oiled ladies".
As the cross-dressing Major Courtney, Fast Show star Simon Day raises effortless laughs through a range of increasingly haughty exclamations, while Ralf Little again proves his accomplishment on stage as pill-popping, quiff-haired Harry. And holding them all together is John Gordon Sinclair, who more than matches his fellow Scot Peter Capaldi's interpretation of the scheming Professor Marcus with a performance laced with sideways glances and a palpable 'big fish in small pond' frustration.
All told The Ladykillers is a perfectly enjoyable way to wile away a summer's evening, though it struggles to match the accomplishment and charm of its source.
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