Paul Brown (Prof Marcus), Clive Mantle (Mjr Courtney), Chris McCalphy (One-Round), Michele Dotrice (Mrs Wilberforce), and William Troughton (Harry) in The Ladykillers.
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin ***“What is the difference between robbing a bank and founding one?” philanderer and philosopher Prof Marcus asks, when called upon to defend his role in the heist that is the centre of this stage adaptation of the 1955 film, The Ladykillers. Marcus (Paul Bown) is just one of a coterie of con-artists posing as musicians in the tumbledown boarding house of the doddery Mrs Wilberforce (Michele Dotrice). His comrades offer a cross-section of social and comic stereotypes: closet cross-dresser Mjr Courtney (Clive Mantle, doing a good John Cleese impression), pill-popping kleptomaniac Harry Robinson (William Troughton), thick but sensitive One-Round (the towering hulk of Chris McCalphy) and mysterious foreigner Louis Harvey (Matthew Bunn).
Characterisation and performances are broad and expansive as befits an Ealing comedy, and the slapstick never loses its punch with repetition; indeed, the anticipation heightens the humour, as the audience’s audible reactions make clear.
This is a straightforward adaptation to the stage by Graham Linehan, although the necessary shrinking of the plot-heavy film to the single site of Mrs Wilberforce’s boarding house presents the biggest challenge; yet it also presents great potential for physical comedy. Linehan and director Sean Foley deal with the practical challenge of representing the robbery by turning the house’s facade into a network of roads upon which the getaway can be enacted by remote-control cars, and, later, a railway tunnel where the criminal characters meet their fate.
On the opening night the technical elements were not quite successfully achieved, but the idea merits recognition. In fact, Michael Taylor’s “shmiggildy-giggldy” set – a Victorian mansion collapsing in upon itself – actually works best when used more conventionally. When the blue-rinse brigade arrives suddenly for the recital of Prof Marcus’s experimental symphony, for example, it makes for hideously brilliant tableau.
Prof Marcus’s self-defence when the gang are caught by Mrs Wilberforce is the only gesture towards contemporaneity in The Ladykillers, which is essentially comic fantasy with a physical edge. There is potential for a moral fable, but this version is really just a bit of fun.