The Lavender Hill Mob
Adapted for stage by Phil Porter, based on a screenplay by T E B Clarke
Patrick Myles, David Luff and Act Productions, Alexander “Sandy” Marshall
Theatre Royal Bath
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Seventy-two years on from its UK film première at Marble Arch Odeon, The Lavender Hill Mob stops off at Theatre Royal Bath on its penultimate week of touring.
Adapted for the stage by Phil Porter (The Miser and Vice Versa), the source material is considered by the British Film Institute to be the 17th greatest British film of all time. It boasted a pretty fine line-up of top actors, too, with Sir Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway and Sid James starring—and remarkably saw the film debuts of Hollywood legends Audrey Hepburn and Robert Shaw, not to forget the original Q himself, Desmond Llewelyn. The film even bagged an Oscar for Best Writing. So it is safe to say Porter’s task to navigate the windy path from screen to stage had an air of expectation attached.
In Guinness and Holloway’s shoes are two acclaimed comedic actors in Miles Jupp (SAS: Rogue Heroes) and Justin Edwards (The Thick of It). A classic caper story, long before Newman and Redford’s The Sting or Michael Caine’s The Italian Job, The Lavender Hill Mob was about as fresh as it could get in the 1950s.
Henry Holland (Jupp) tells the story of his past life away from a comfortable abode in Rio De Janeiro as an unambitious bank clerk in London. Holland devises a plan to take advantage of his position and steal a delivery of gold bullion, but when his plan hits a wall, he meets souvenir-artist Alfred Pendlebury (Edwards) at a boarding house in Lavender Hill. The pair concoct a plan in which they aim to melt down the gold into Eiffel Tower paperweights and move them to Pendlebury’s shop in Paris.
Porter’s script is easy and gentle, but falls short by modern standards of a caper or comedy and lacks the intrinsics of a true heist story. The performances from the cast are fine with exception for Victoria Blunt, as Audrey, whose comedic chops and timing provide the funniest moments. The production also benefits from a well-thought-out set design (Francis O’Connor). Nevertheless, even with Blunt’s burst of energy and a strong backdrop, it falls short of the six-laugh test—a shame considering the talent on display.
Sometimes classics are best left untouched—especially in a genre which has moved significantly on. Even by the time The Sting came along, the twist seems quite tame in comparison. It felt more BBC Two on a Sunday afternoon than a gripping crime comedy. It poses a wider question on what makes an adaptation necessary—it should start and end with the why, and sadly this wasn’t convincing enough.
Those that hold the original near and dear to their hearts might get a greater kick, but for others, one can’t help but wish for more and, by modern standards, it falls short in numerous facets.
Reviewer: Jacob Newbury