The Ladykillers - July 2022

Some of you of a certain vintage will remember the Ealing Comedies of the 1950s and 60s superbly funny films. The Ladykillers was one of these and has been turned into a play script by Graham Linehan which is an excellent piece of comedy theatre in its own right whilst staying close to the original story in the film.

The story sees a hapless band of criminals renting out a room in Mrs Wilberforce’s London home close to King’s Cross directly over the main tunnel into the station which they use to plan and execute a heist. Their unlikely cover is that they are a quartet of professional musicians with a penchant for Boccherini. 

It all goes like clockwork under the direction of Professor Marcus and Mrs Wilberforce is charmed by the beautiful sounds floating down from her upstairs room until the heist and Mrs Wilberforce planning a surprise concert for her friends. The men cannot of course play a note with hilarious consequences. Mrs Wilberforce discovers what has happened and that she has played a part in the robbery and the only option for the gang is to kill her. But the criminals start to doubt and distrust each other and fight over the loot and begin killing each other off ………!

The play is good family comedy and will be ideal for a summer holiday audience of families.

The Reviews Are In

The Ladykillers Alnwick Theatre Club review by Joanna Fuller

Based on the Ealing film comedy, this updated play version written by Graham Linehan tells the story of an elderly widow, Mrs Wilberforce living in an eccentric house in Kings Cross who unwittingly lets out a room to a hapless band of criminals posing as a musical ensemble with a penchant for Boccherini. They spend their time planning a heist, in which Mrs Wilberforce is innocently embroiled. When she discovers what is really going on the gang make plans to ‘despatch’ her with comic but disastrous results for the criminals. It’s a risk to stage a production of a much loved film but overall, the Alnwick Theatre Club manages to pull it off, with comedic highs peppered throughout the play.

The set was thoughtfully and playfully created; a quirky, cobbled-together house across two floors with the upstairs bedroom overlooking Kings Cross tunnels. Inside, the house contained suitably old fashioned pictures (comically tilted at odd angles), comfy armchairs, built-in cupboards and beautiful china tea-cups. It cleverly took both the audience and characters from the sitting-room to the bedroom and onto the railway line below. It is the source of much fun in the show, getting laughs right from the start and throughout. Plaudits go to Stage Manager, Virginia Mayes Wright, and the stage crew, for creating such an ingenious playground for the cast to act on. This was only enhanced by the lighting and sound by Andy Hunt, Andrew Mounsey and Gary Brown. Not an easy job by any means, co-ordinating the sound of trains with the demise of the criminals but one that they generally did very successfully.

Hilary Waugh and Karina Biggers prowess in the costume department resulted in a highly finished collection of outfits that defined each character brilliantly. Honourable mention goes to the scarf Professor Marcus’ (Mark Stenton) wore that was so long that it trailed around the floor - providing comic entertainment when Mrs Wilberforce stepped on it a number of occasions. The unkept, scruffy One Round (Matthew Winter) looked just the part in his untucked shirt, incorrectly buttoned- up cardigan and ill-fitting jacket - contrasting nicely with the smartly dressed Harry Robinson (Nick Biggers) and Louis Harvey (Matt Bush). Major Courtney’s yellow waistcoat was another stand-out, along with the 1950’s dresses the Teaparty Ladies wore for the unforgettable quintet performance.

Peter Biggers’ and Glenda Fricke’s casting and direction was faultless. Between them, they cast a superb ensemble of well-rounded characters with excellent, well-executed comic timing. Mrs Wilberforce, played by Sheila Graham gave a measured performance of a lonely widow with only an unseen, ailing parrot (ably voiced by Cath Hughes) and her memories for company. Mark Stenton turns the professor into a somewhat deluded Moriarty who believes he's a criminal genius, but hilariously can't get a cello case out of a window and comes to a sticky end. Stuart Archer is also very funny as the major, quivering with delight at the sight of Mrs Wiberforce’s purple frock, which he dances animatedly with. There are also lively contributions from Matt Bush as the word- muddling criminal who announces "old ladies give me the penises” and Nick Biggers who gave a confident performance as Harry Robinson with a deep, husky voice that resulted in cascades of laughter. Matthew Winter’s portrayal of One Round was particularly notable, flitting between clumsy, and impulsive while also showing great tenderness towards Mrs Wilberforce. It was brilliant to see new faces on the stage too - Adam Bell made his debut as Constable Macdonald, treading the line perfectly between friendliness and exasperation at Mrs Wilberforce’s frequent reports of occurrences in which she feels he should be taking an interest. He delivered his lines with real panache and provided many comic moments, particularly when carrying the suitcase of money into Mrs Wilberforce’s dilapidated house.

If you are expecting to see a replica of the film, then this production of The Ladykillers is possibly not for you. But what it does have, is bags of personality and farcical slapstick humour. The originality of the staging and talented cast makes for an evening of hilarity - the audience is left defenceless as the laughs come in thick and fast (especially in the second half of the play). It is a joyous evening at the theatre, one that feels very much needed after all the heaviness of the past couple of years.

Alnwick Theatre Club – ‘THE LADYKILLERS’ - NODA Review 28/07/2022

A visit to the beautiful town of Alnwick is always a delight. But to visit the superb Playhouse to see this talented Group is even more delightful.

THE LADYKILLERS was one of the greatest of the Ealing Comedies and the film, made in 1955, had a stellar cast including Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom and Peter Sellars. Graham Linehan’s play follows the original screenplay by William Rose, with a surprise addition, which, in Chairman Peter Biggers’ words is ‘absolutely hilarious’.

ATC’s auditions for this play were originally held in March 2020, but we all know what happened next… It is a testament to the Group’s determination and dedication to see it materialise on stage this week. Well done!.

The action of the play spans a week in the autumn and takes place in the house of Mrs Wilberforce, an aged lady, beautifully portrayed by Shiela Graham, who has rooms to let. The house is located in North London and stands above the portal to the Copenhagen Tunnels running into Kings Cross. She is visited by Professor Marcus – a tour-de-force from Mark Stenton (who cannot play any part badly!) in order to rent one of her rooms, but not for the purpose he describes!

Marcus’s ‘string quartet’; Major Courtney – Stuart Archer, Harry Robinson – Nick Biggers, ‘One Round’ – Matthew Winter and Louis Harvey – Matt Bush, all very ably characterised, arrive one by one and the Professor’s plans to steal £200,000 unravel alarmingly as the week progresses. They are superbly supported by Adam Bell as Constable MacDonald, Jean Goodfellow as Mrs Tromleyton and the rest of the Teaparty Ladies – Christine Allcorn, Karina Biggers, Mary Frater, Helen Gee- Graham, and Hilary Waugh… not forgetting the very distinctive voice of the Parrot - General Gordon - by Cath Hughes!.

This ‘darker than most’ comedy farce is a very wordy play, causing the audience to listen very carefully, and, in the main, the story and comedy came over very well. However, it must be said that some of the diction was not as clear as it could have been. Nonetheless, the cast have to be congratulated for their performances, the strength of which was not in any individual, but rather in the team unit itself.

A very impressive multi-level and beautifully dressed set and props, combined with excellent lighting and sound, lovely costumes and use of extremely apt music made our visit a superbly entertaining one. Congratulations to the whole team and to co-directors Glenda Fricke and Peter Biggers. You should all be very proud of your work.

We look forward to DICK WHITTINGTON in January 2023.

Thank you from Pauleen and myself for the invitation and hospitality.

Ken Allan