Graham Lineham’s The Ladykillers is the hilarious black comedy about a band of criminals who disguise themselves as amateur musicians in order to hire a room in the house of charming Mrs. Wilberforce. What follows is a tongue-in-cheek account of their heist, discovery, and subsequent fall at the hands of their elderly landlady and a series of very disorganised murders.
Directed by Sean Foley, the production has returned to London’s Vaudeville Theatre with a phenomenal set designed by Michael Taylor. Set on a revolve (which I didn’t realise the Vaudeville had!) it depicts the topsy-turvy house of Mrs. Wilberforce (Angela Thorne), complete with crooked conservatory and photo frame that just won’t stay still. The ingenuity of the set isn’t contained to the interior – upon turning around we are treated to an aerial view car chase that included a train coming in to Kings Cross Station. The complexity of the design was almost forgotten in the humour of the production, but astounds nonetheless – using a revolve without seeming cheesy or ‘overdone’ I find to be a rare trait, but one which Taylor worked seamlessly.
The script contains the classic comedy moments – one liners, endless slapstick mainly aimed at Harry (Ralf Little) in the form of a vertically rotating black board, and the main premise of mistaken identity. However even such simple humour needs good delivery, and in this instance the cast did not disappoint. Thorne was every part the kindly old lady, unassuming and one would think entirely oblivious to the ways of the world. John Gordon Sinclair played the gentlemanly Professor Marcus, the ringleader in this gang of thieves, and Little’s portrayal of the youngest, cockney Harry was brilliantly funny. The other crooks, Romanian Louis (Con O’Neill), ‘One Round’ aka. Mr. Lawson (Chris McCalphy), and Major Courtney (Simon Day) completed the menacing menagerie. O’Neill in particular shone through as the sour-faced, tightly-wound assassin, terrified of old ladies, with a bizarre childhood filled with Fairytale horrors.
What really gelled the performance together for me was the music, composed by Ben and Max Ringham. With plenty of echoing piano and strings, it created the same atmosphere as many a British detective show, turning scene transitions into their own little pieces of choreography as the house moved and the lights flickered (giving the illusion of a passing train from the tracks below). It was dramatic enough to keep one engaged, yet had the right melody to remind the audience of whodunits and mystery-come-comedy programmes. It’s not often I’m impressed enough by music in a straight-play to make mention, but for The Ladykillers it was a detail I couldn’t overlook.
Despite the second act feeling a little slow and repetitive after the whirlwind of laughter that came before the interval, this was undoubtedly one of the funniest shows I’ve seen at the West End. The laugh-out-loud moments were never over egged or pushed too far, landing just right amongst the stalls and circles alike with titters rippling across the seats even long after the punch line. This is a show that is suited to every family member and every sense of humour, and I highly recommend catching it while you can.