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First Night: The Ladykillers/Liverpool Playhouse

Kevin Bourke witnesses an unstoppable rattle of mischief, charm and danger

Written by . Published on November 9th 2011.

First Night: The Ladykillers/Liverpool Playhouse

YOU can easily come a real cropper revisiting much-loved films like the 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers. Just ask the  Coen brothers, whose 2004 version of the Alexander Mackendrick/William Rose film received the most lukewarm reviews of their otherwise virtually unimpeachable career. Even a starring role for Tom Hanks couldn't save that particular turkey at the box-office.

This is the sort of terrific show that it's
truly hard to imagine anybody not liking

So the choice of this new stage version of The Ladykillers as the production that would mark the 100th birthday of the Playhouse/Liverpool Repertory Theatre was not an obvious one. Artistic and Executive Directors Gemma Bodinetz and Deborah Aydon wanted, they say, something to mark this auspicious occasion "that could embrace the huge variety of our audience both young and old, that was both familiar and yet contemporary. More than anything we wanted it to feel special, a real treat of a night".

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Well, The Ladykillers certainly nails that. This is a wonderfully entertaining show that's funny and full of mischief, charm and danger.

Writer Graham (Father Ted, The IT Crowd) Linehan's script manages to both respect the original and take inspired liberties with it, at times making proceedings more akin to Marx Brothers anarchy.

The direction by Sean Foley, whose previous credits include The Play What I Wrote, is zippy yet allows the characters room to breathe, while all the performances are pretty much pitch perfect.  Even the set and special effects, from Michael Taylor and Scott Penrose respectively, prompted more than one spontaneous round of heartfelt applause from last night's star-studded opening night audience.

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Peter Capaldi boldly addresses the Alec Guinness role of Professor Marcus, subtly but hilariously, emphasising the twitchy, borderline craziness of the low-rent criminal mastermind who comes up with the fatally flawed scheme of having the criminal gang hole up in the lop-sided home of elderly Mrs. Louisa Wilberforce (Marcia Warren), improbably masquerading as musicians as they actually plan a violent robbery.

The gang themselves, pretty much a roll-call of stereotypes in the film, are subversively tweaked here. Stephen Wight's Harry is a speed-freak wide boy obsessed with cleaning and the butt of much of the physical humour, while James Fleet's conman, Major Courtney, now displays a keen interest in frocks.

012_The Ladykillers -%26#174%3B Manuel Harlan
Ben Miller's Louis, supposedly on hand simply to dispense "extreme thuggery", turns out to have considerably more depth than that, as does Clive Rowe's massive, and massively dim, One-Round. All of them have their fair share of laugh-out-loud lines and physical larking about in a genuine ensemble production that greatly benefits from the constant presence of Marcia Warren's not-as-dotty-as-she-seems Mrs W.

With a couple of superb set-pieces, notably the two versions of the robbery itself as well as the first time we see and hear a train roar past the house, this is the sort of terrific show that it's truly hard to imagine anybody not liking.

After its regrettably short world premiere/sold out run at the Liverpool Playhouse, it transfers to London's West End, where, I'd be prepared to bet, it will run and run.  9/10

 *Until November 19.

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on November 9th 2011.
Stage door johnniesNovember 9th 2011.

Superb production and a great review. Liverpool is very lucky to get it

Durex-pect me to believe that?November 10th 2011.

Such a shame it sold out ages ago I'd have loved to have seen it.

David CrosbyNovember 11th 2011.

The Playhouse scores again

Love comes in spurtsNovember 22nd 2011.


Condom coalitionDecember 1st 2011.

Steady tiger, not yet!

Matt CrawfordDecember 3rd 2011.

Sorry, puss cat!

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