The Ladykillers review: at last, some killer roles for women

Graham Linehan’s staging of the Ealing comedy features an all-female cast for the first time, but the quality of the performances means tokenism is not an issue

The Ladykillers:  sharply focused characterisations. Photograph: Steffan Hill

The Ladykillers: sharply focused characterisations. Photograph: Steffan Hill

 

Lyric Theatre, Belfast

****

In a series of madcap, jagged-edged scenarios, Jimmy Fay’s industrious production of Graham Linehan’s stage version of The Ladykillers whooshes through the surreal dreamland of William Rose’s screen original while anchoring the piece firmly in the bittersweet social landscape of post-war Britain.

Since it was premiered in 2011, Linehan’s daring reconstruction of the quintessentially English Ealing comedy has been frequently dusted down. This, however, is the first time that a revival has featured an all-female cast. It’s tempting to interpret it as a tokenistic decision, prompted by the recently published Gender Counts report, but such is the quality of the ensemble that it swiftly ceases to be an issue. What is an issue is an occasional drop in pace and dramatic tension, not helped by some unconvincing violent encounters between Rose’s colourful gallery of ne’er-do-wells.

‘Sgt Pepper of a film’

In responding literally to the title – killers who are ladies as opposed to men intent on killing a lady – the production, visually and aurally, lives up to its director’s description of the screen comedy as “a sort of Sgt Pepper of a film”.

It’s an apt analogy given the bogus musicians, who plot a robbery from the upstairs room of old Mrs Wilberforce’s King’s Cross terraced house, and the “avant garde” concert, which brings the first act to a hilariously discordant close. Stuart Marshall’s loopy, leaning two-storey set, Erin Charteris’s contemporaneously stylish costumes and Conor Mitchell’s plinky/crooning score provide the actors with a playful springboard into some sharply focused characterisations. All of them are rooted in a once-mighty country now floundering and unstable in unfamiliar recovery mode.

Criminal mastermind

In the pivotal role of dodgy lodger Prof Marcus, Abigail McGibbon steadfastly keeps the show on the road as the kind of criminal mastermind so beloved of the 1950s tabloid press. EastEnders regular Cheryl Fergison brings a rotund, bovine stupidity to One Round, the ultimate personification of the lumpen proletariat; Jo Donnelly delivers a gem of a performance as fumbling ex-army officer Maj Courtney, a closet transvestite, one minute saluting the last days of the Empire, the next salivating over a pink chiffon dress; and Stella McCusker is crystal clear of voice and purpose as the glintingly sweet lady at the still point of the plot, a small but determined symbol of goodness and decency struggling for survival in a dysfunctional new world order.

Runs until July 8

lyrictheatre.co.uk