The Ladykillers

Graham Linehan from the screenplay by William Rose
New Vic and Hull Truck Theatre
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
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Since its première in 2011, Graham Linehan’s adaptation of the Ealing classic comedy The Ladykillers has become a firm favourite with professional and amateur companies alike.

I’ve seen the play twice in a week. An amateur society showed how difficult it can be to get the right cast and perform it without hamming it up. The New Vic proved that an insightful director and experienced actors can turn in a memorable production.

For anyone not conversant with either the 1955 film or Linehan’s stage version, The Ladykillers involves a group of shady characters posing as musicians as they prepare to rob a bank.

They rent a room at the home of Mrs Wilberforce in King’s Cross and there are endless opportunities for comedy as the gang try to hide their criminal intentions from the inquisitive landlady who makes endless pots of tea.

Two New Vic regulars return in The Ladykillers and both give refreshing performances in roles which show their versatility.

Andrew Pollard has played various characters including Phileas Fogg in the stage adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, the butler Crichton in J M Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton and the intellectual yet gloomy John in Michael Frayn’s Alphabetical Order. In The Ladykillers he is marvellous as gang leader Professor Marcus. Flamboyantly eccentric with wild hair, long scarf, high-waisted trousers and ill-fitting pullover, he looks a real oddball.

Michael Hugo, who has clocked up almost 20 productions at the New Vic playing all sorts of characters is a joy as droll, temperamental Rumanian Louis Harvey whose dislike of old ladies gets in the way of his murderous intentions.

Anna Kirke as Mrs Wilberforce almost steals the show. With a pronounced stoop and shuffling footsteps she looks harmless and her dottiness is compounded by her tendency to jump to ridiculous conclusions.

There are also solid performances from the rest of the professor’s gang, Andy Gillies as educationally challenged One-Round who keeps forgetting his alias; Matthew Rixon as alleged war hero Major Courtney with a stiff upper lip who has a penchant for women’s clothes; and Matt Sutton as Teddy Boy Harry Robinson, the pill popper who has a propensity for polishing anything that shows a speck of dirt.

Timothy Speyer also gets laughs doubling up as the incompetent Constable Macdonald and Mrs Wilberforce’s whimsical friend Jane Tromleyton.

Mark Babych’s direction makes the most of the farcical elements early on and brings out the darker side of the production after the interval when the gang’s outrageous scheme begins to fall apart.

Patrick Connellan’s set which is on two levels has some ingenious touches, although in some of the seats in the theatre-in-the-round it is a bit difficult to see what’s going on outside on the roof. There is also confusion with the bathroom; on one occasion the professor comes out into a bedroom, on another it leads into the lounge.

Overall, though, the production is a delight. Graham Linehan has turned The Ladykillers into what promises to be a magical experience; the New Vic certainly does the play justice.

Reviewer: Steve Orme