Sunday, December 18, 2011
A West End play, based on a classic comedy film, written by Graham "Father Ted and Ralph" Linehan and starring two hugely talented comedy actors Ben Miller and Peter Capaldi. There was always a chance I'd like the new stage adaptation of The Ladykillers, and like it I did.
There have been reviews which say that the staging is the real star of this production, and while that's to overstate things a little, there's no doubting that it's really ruddy good. All of the action takes place in and around sweet old Mrs Wilberforce's house in Kings Cross, which fills the stage, twists to reveal new rooms, leans precariously and shakes violently when a train goes by - sending tables and chairs sliding magically across the floor.
[Spoilers] With the entire criminal gang that stays in this rickety old house to bump off along the way, there's a lot of "stage business" like this throughout the play, and while it is occasionally a little clunky, most of it is inventive, fun and genuinely surprising. Wide-boy Harry (Stephen Wright) gets a bannister spindle through the stomach, One-Round (Clive Rowe) receives a fatal head wound from a cake knife and Eastern European, old-lady-hating Louis (Miller) is dispatched out the window after accidentally stabbing himself. All of this is achieved with real panache, but also all topped, I'm afraid, by a stunning visual gag involving the gang squeezing themselves into a tiny cupboard.
As for the writing, it's a curious mix of broad-as-you-like humour and really quite subtle throwaway lines. Some of the jokes are real groaners, but the running gags all have neat pay-offs and there's something approaching poetry in Professor's (Capaldi) grand speeches. It's perfectly cast - Capaldi is a Lithgow-esque ball of frustration and self-delusion, Miller is delightfully grumpy - and, like the deceptively dumb One-Round, this production may not wear its smarts on its sleeve, but it has them in bucketloads.