The Ladykillers – Lyric Theatre – Review by Cathy Brown
Graham Linehan is the master of the one set sit-com, from Father Ted to Black Books, and his adaptation of William Rose’s classic Ealing screenplay The Ladykillers certainly plays to his strengths. He changes little of the premise – a criminal gang occupy the upstairs room of a demure old lady’s rickety house, posing as a string quartet to cover-up the heist they are planning. But, like the topsy turvy set in which they land, it is clear that nothing in this tale is going to go as planned.
In a world where no one is as they seem, Jimmy Fay’s production for the Lyric Theatre adds another layer of obfuscation by featuring an all female cast. This artistic decision doesn’t bring any new insight to the story, but neither does it detract from the telling and as a way of redressing the high profile imbalance of gender roles in Irish theatre, it is to be commended.
This is in a large part down to an excellent cast who inhabit their roles with gusto. Abigail McGibbon’s Professor, all scarf and confidence, is the charismatic lynchpin of the production while Jo Donnelly steals almost all the laughs as the bogus Major, quivering with delight at the sight of a pretty frock. Eastenders actress Cheryl Fergison brings much needed heart to the role of sweet but dim ex-pugilist One Round. Jules Maxwell displays perfect comic timing as the Elvis-inspired, pill-popping Harry and Stella McCusker exudes the quiet strength of the little old landlady whose chief concern is for her ill parrot.
Some of the darker humour of the Ealing comedy is lost in Linehan’s adaptation which is more farcical than frightening. The physical comedy comes thick and fast with much of the show being played as pure farce. As the robbers try not to break their string quartet cover, their inability to avoid a public performance becomes a frenzied pillory of avant garde music and when the police interrupt the plans, our gang piles into a previously unseen cupboard for the sight gag of the night.
Stuart Marshall’s inventively crooked set brilliantly uses every inch of the Lyric stage to recreate the genteel shabbiness of Mrs Wilberforce’s cramped little house – complete with the railway line that rumbles past it.
Where the Ealing movie had a political aspect in its ‘state of the nation’ depiction of old world values being threatened by capitalist opportunism, Linehan’s adaptation focuses more on the personal and the moral of the tale can be summed up by the line; “In the worst of men, there is a little bit of good that can destroy them.” Never underestimate how the conscience of even the most hardened criminal can be pricked by the thought of hurting a little old lady.
There are some moments when the production lags, it takes a while to warm up and the second half has some pacing issues, but the pleasure of this production comes from the sheer exuberance and inventiveness of this fine ensemble of actresses who appear to be having as much of a ball as the audience watching them.