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Review Round-up: Glowing Response for Linehan's Ladykillers

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Graham Linehan, the comic brain behind series such as Father Ted and The IT Crowd, brings Ealing comedy The Ladykillers to the West End stage following its try-out run at Liverpool Playhouse last month.

Directed by Sean Foley, the production features an all-star cast of James Fleet, Peter Capaldi, Ben Miller, Clive Rowe and Stephen Wight. Unwitting widow Mrs Wilberforce - who finds herself embroiled with an unlikely group of criminals planning the heist of a security van - is played by two-time Olivier Award-winning actress Marcia Warren.

Opening to glowing reviews from the critical press, each of the cast is individually commended for their contributions, with Michael Taylor's set design also picked out for particular praise.

The Ladykillers, which opened last night (7 December, previews from 26 November 2011) at the West End's Gielgud Theatre, is currently booking until 14 April 2012.

Matt Trueman

"A heist movie that trips into farce, The Ladykillers is a patchwork narrative … Graham Linehan’s ticklish stage adaptation succeeds because it honours that … The result is a caper that delights, even if it can’t disarm … Linehan offers some cracking lines ('You’re making a mockery of teatime.') and sensibly embraces the stage, even, bravely, playing with the awkwardness of transposition itself … Director Sean Foley… throws in textbook trickery… the gang make a well-tuned ensemble … The casting is note-perfect. Each actor is on home turf, allowing relish and freedom in the playing … James Fleet stutters sweetly as only he can, Stephen Wight is a half-cocked cockney and Clive Rowe dopes with aplomb … They have a tidy foil in Marcia Warren’s Mrs Wilberforce … Best of all, though, is Michael Taylor’s jaunty and jumbled set … The Ladykillers might lack the lethalness of crack comedy, but it still proves the Ealing power of laughter."

Libby Purves
The Times

"Old Mrs Wilberforce… takes in “Professor Marcus” as lodger (Peter Capaldi spiderish and insinuating, his donnish, fluting tones suggesting a high-church bishop gone to the dark side). She lets his 'string quartet' rehearse upstairs; but as lovers of the original film know, they are actually planning a robbery … The 1955 Ealing film still gives joy … Graham Linehan… opens up the old comedy to new layers, and Sean Foley faultlessly directs Capaldi and Rowe, plus Ben MillerJames Fleet, a yobbish Stephen Wight… and of course the matchless Marcia Warren as Mrs Wilberforce … Warren’s ability to tread on the end of Capaldi’s long grey muffler gives many moments of joy … Even Michael Taylor’s set is hilarious… the house itself a nightmare of skewed tumbledown Victoriana … The heist itself occurs in miniature, vertical plane, automotive puppetry and flash-bangs on the brick façade, to cheers from the stalls. In the final denouement, that glorious set pulls one last trick. An incredible one. My lips are sealed."

Michael Billington

"What Linehan and director Sean Foley have come up with is a very different animal from the 1955 movie; and, while it may lack the Ealing touch, it works very well as a slapstick farce … Foley's production piles on the sight gags: chairs and tables spin across the stage every time a train passes, the robbery is re-created by miniaturised cars colliding on a vertical wall … If something is lost in the process, it is the movie's metaphorical resonance … The film has a state-of-England quality … Peter Capaldi turns the professor into a deluded Moriarty … James Fleet is also very funny as the bogus major… there are lively contributions from Ben Miller… and from Clive Rowe as the ex-pugilist who finds a passion for the cello. Marcia Warren, meanwhile, neatly captures the quiet grit of the lavender-scented landlady … It is an exuberantly inventive evening, one existing in its own right at a tangent to the original, and proving that an ingenious William Rose idea, even when put to a farcical purpose, can still smell as sweet."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"Graham Linehan… shows the extent of his comic proficiency with this affectionate yet brightly original adaptation of a classic Ealing comedy dating from 1955 … 'Being fooled by art is one of the primary pleasures afforded to the middle class,' says Peter Capaldi's Marcus. It's a smart line typical of a piece that's knowing and clever … There are plenty of full-flavoured jokes … Technically, it's an accomplished show. Michael Taylor's wonky, versatile set is brilliantly conceived … Capaldi is animatedly creepy as Marcus … James Fleet delights as a blundering Army major … Clive Rowe relishes his role as a dim-witted ex-boxer … There's nimble work from Stephen Wight … and from Ben Miller as the villainous Louis … Marcia Warren brings a sweetly gentle touch to Mrs Wilberforce … Linehan's layered play seems to speak of a darkness at the very heart of British society, yet it brims with slapstick. There are a few points when the energy drops off, but it's suffused with fun."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Just the sight of the crooked, dottily eccentric house occupied by the sweet and unsuspecting Mrs Wilberforce raises a smile … Graham Linehan’s new adaptation and Sean Foley’s constantly inventive production are full of fresh gags and amazing physical comedy routines … The show is packed with cracking comic performances. Peter Capaldi can’t quite erase memories of Guinness’s definitively disconcerting professor … James Fleet is superbly shifty as the cowardly bogus Major, and adds a delicious new comic dimension by suggesting that this bristling moustached con man is also a transvestite. The huge Clive Rowe is blissfully funny as the deeply dim and unexpectedly fastidious ex-boxer One-Round, while Marcia Warren is perfect as the plucky old lady who supplies almost the only glimpse of warmth and moral decency. The company is clearly having a ball — even a mishap with an errant doorknob was spontaneously turned into an ad-libbed comic routine on the first night — and you would need to be feeling very glum indeed to emerge from this production without a broad grin on your face."

Paul Taylor

"Graham Linehan… defies augury with this inspired adaptation that converts the proceedings into a hilarious send-up of loony, slapstick farce. Even Michael Taylor's skew-whiff domestic folly of a set turns in a wonderful performance … I particularly liked Stephen Wight's pill-popping wide-boy … Peter Capaldi is brilliant as the certifiably deluded Prof … In Sean Foley's pitch-perfect production, this masterfully exaggerated performance is counterbalanced by the delicious comic restraint of Marcia Warren's quietly oblivious and faintly sad Mrs Wilberforce … This is a show that is destined to appeal to all brow levels, offering everything from wizardry that can fake the pill-popper's impaling by a banister to coded stuff for the cognoscenti, as when the Major hymns the “compassion” of people in King's Cross area and their understanding of “originality” to Ben Miller's wonderful, word-mangling Romanian. This is comic bliss with (pace the set) brass knobs on."


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