Sean Foley’s production of The Ladykillers, which has returned to the West End, is long on madcap set-pieces, recurring comic tropes, and broad characterisation and short on subtlety, pace and the macabre unease so beautifully created by the original film.
Nonetheless it revels in a peculiarly British quality which serves it well in this new incarnation. The new cast throw themselves into the style of the piece with abandon, led by John Gordon Sinclair’s oily Professor Marcus. He is more than ably supported by the tight ensemble playing of Ralf Little, Con O’Neil, Simon Day and Chris mcCalphy. And if some of the characters are little more than expanded comedy stereotypes – the lumpen thug, the spivvy youth, the linguistically challenged foreigner, well, this is a light comedy, not Chekhov. At the centre is Angela Thorne’s deliciously realised Mrs Wilberforce, delicate, steely, moral and above all, wholesomely British.
Ben and Max Ringham, who wrote the score, meld unease, humour and a subtle nod to Thomas Arne
Michael Taylor’s set is a thing of beauty with an entertaining life of its own – perhaps too entertaining, threatening to upstage the entire proceedings when the main door stuck for almost the entirety of Act Two, while Graham Linehan’s script is witty and with just the right amount of deference to the Ealing comedies of its genesis. Ben and Max Ringham, who wrote the score, meld unease, humour and a subtle nod to Thomas Arne. It is beautifully evocative of a forgotten England, and a canny nod to the film.
Yet for all the skill and detail of Foley’s direction and the excellent cast, The Ladykillers never really delivers. Too slow and obvious when it should be light and quicksilver, too much reliance on comic stereotypes, and not enough darkness and chill. A summer froth without the dark heart of the original.
*** (3 stars)
Runs until 26th October