When one starts a review by remarking on how amazing the set is, it is easy to assume that this is because the other aspects of the show were less satisfactory. Rest assured that this is not the case with The Ladykillers, it’s just that Michael Taylor’s revolving, lopsided set really is stunning. Sean Foley has created a lively and amusing evening’s entertainment, tempered by blackly comic moments and some dark deeds. Graham Linehan’s script pays tribute to the film without being slavish, and finds a nice balance between comedy, farce and drama.
Peter Capaldi does suave and sinister really rather well, playing ringleader “Professor” Marcus with just the right amount of menace. We never quite lose sympathy for him (his is terribly beguiling, tossing his foppish scarf around his shoulders and telling sob story after sob story), but he treads a very fine line when events don’t turn out quite as planned. Clive Rowe puts in a lovely performance as One-Round, the boxer who’s been hit in the head one-too-many times – he gets most of the laughs, but one can’t help but be delighted when it turns out that he is not quite a stupid as he appears. Stephen Wight is funny as the East End crook Harry Robinson although a joke where he gets smacked in the head is repeated a few too many times. Marcia Warren plays the tottery, tea-drinking Mrs Wilberforce well, giving her more gumption than her slight frame suggests. The cast as a whole work extremely well together, especially during the slapstick set pieces. Large portions of the production are reminiscent of The Marx Brothers, and although the jokes wear a little thin they are still clever enough to raise a laugh.
Linehan’s script plays with (slightly dodgy) stereotypes with a light touch, confounding expectations just enough to avoid becoming offensive. The plot is wearingly predictable (case in point: what could possibly happen when a cello case full of stolen cash is left in the path of a stumbling old lady?) but carried off with aplomb. Ben and Max Ringham’s music and sound effects are incredibly atmospheric, evoking the era splendidly and providing excellent train noises. And the set. Well, Taylor has done a fantastic job. It revolves. We get sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, roof, train tunnel, all of Kings Cross train station, police cars, trains… it is a thing of genius, and never stops surprising right up until the end.
The Ladykillers is playing at the Gielgud Theatre and is booking until 14 April 2012. For more information and to book tickets, see the Official Ladykillers website.