The Ladykillers

Graham Lineham
The Watermill Theatre Company
The Watermill Theatre Newbury

The Company Ladykillers Credit: Philip Tull

The Ladykillers by Graham Lineham is the last production for Hedda Beeby as Artistic Director of the Watermill Theatre who will be leaving after 8 years and handing over the reigns to Paul Hart. What a choice to say farewell, as this production is an absolute delight from start to finish: a sure-fire winner.

It is based on the 1955 classic comedy movie made at Ealing Studios that had Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom amongst the cast.

Director Lee Lyford has magically reworked this story creating an inventive, funny and highly enjoyable production and is blessed with a stellar company of actors to work with.

Simon Kenny’s wonderful multi-level set design perfectly captures the lopsided, rickety house that’s suffering from subsidence with doors at odd-shaped angles and a precarious rake in the bedroom. Look out for the ingenious scenes on the rooftop, but I wont spoil the effect.

The elderly Mrs Wilberforce, splendidly played by Marlene Sidaway, lives alone with her ailing parrot, General Gordon. She is the thorn in the side of the local police but young constable Macdonald (Matthew Alexander) is understanding and reassures her that there is nothing to worry about.

An advert in the post office to rent out one of her bedrooms is quickly answered by Professor Marcus, a tour-de-force performance from Paul Mundell. He is the leader of a gang of criminals who plan to pull a heist and rob a train at Kings Cross station.

He has a motley crew of henchmen to assist him. John Biddle is the Romanian killer who has hatred of old ladies. The Major (Dermot Canavan) has a penchant for wearing women’s dresses, and then there is the spiv Harry (Harry Katsari) who needs to take his pills to function, has a cleaning obsession and can’t quite shrug off his thieving ways when he pockets Mrs Wilberforce’s candlesticks.

Completing this gang is Alan Stocks as One-Round, an ex-boxer who only lasted one round in a fight. He’s rather dim but has a sentimental side to his character.

As a cover, they convince Mrs Wilberforce that they are a musicians in a string quartet who need to rehearse whilst in reality planning their robbery. The results are hilarious.

There is an ongoing gag with a blackboard and the professor’s scarf that is executed with perfect comic timing. Plus a wonderful moment when the entire gang hide in a small under-stairs cupboard and try to explain their way out of their predicament.

They inveigle Mrs Wilberforce to collect a trunk from the station containing the money and she persuades them to play a concert for her geriatric friends. The gang try to get away with persuading the audience that their awful performance is in fact avant-garde music with the professor explaining, “being fooled by art is one of the primary pleasures offered to the middle classes.”

When Mrs Wilberforce discovers their true intentions, the gang plot to kill her so they can escape with the money, but will they have the guts to carry out this plan?

This captivating and entertaining show is full of surprises and is a palpable hit.

Reviewer: Robin Strapp

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