A CLASSIC of the British cinema comes to the Talisman stage in the form of a lively and busy adaptation of The Ladykillers.
Graham Linehan’s generally faithful adaptation of the screenplay packs a lot in and only a few updates jar slightly in what is otherwise a joyous celebration of this most British of comedies.
Gathered in the cosy but cramped suburban home of a vulnerable widower a gang of fairly hapless criminals pose as a string ensemble to carry out a daring robbery. The only thing standing in their way it seems is the home’s owner whose moral certainty threatens to scupper the whole deal.
As the redoubtable Mrs Wilberforce, Geraldine Cousin is excellent. There’s a lovely mixture of battiness and bravery in the face of increasingly worrying behaviour from her paying guests. Her attempts to steer the right course only to be presented with a fair old twist at the end provide many comic moments.
The quintet of crooks are all nicely drawn, with more than enough nods to the legendary comic figures lined up in the film. Each is a character given depth and shape and all have moments of genuine comedy as the action rattles along like the trains thundering by outside the window.
Michael Seeley’s lead crook is just the right blend of charm and underlying malice and he finds plenty to play off in the shape of the classic hoodlum played by Alan Wales and the flaky false military man played by Des King.
A fine portrayal of the winningly slow One-Round (Christopher Stanford) and the self-doubting chancer (Galli Donaldson) complete a convincing team of baddies who, despite a Romanian presence, could only be British. Mention must also go to that most British of institutions, the flock of old ladies – lovingly observed and pleasingly balanced, their arrival helps lift the chaos of the second half.
The action – through plotting, undertaking the caper and then fighting over the spoils as things fall murderously apart – is carried out against a splendid set from John Ellam. Ingeniously we’re able to see all parts of the house at once and a revolve even gives us the view from outside the house. Idiosyncratic plumbing, pictures that just won’t stay straight and a sash window with a mind of its own make this a very visual, constantly moving show.
Dave Crossfield’s direction keeps the focus on the comedy in the plot before things turn more macabre toward the end and the addition of some very filmic interludes between scenes adds to the cinematic flavour of the whole. There are some fine comic moments here – the revealing demise of the Major, the significance of the long scarf, the hopeless shortcomings of the local police all provide genuine laughs.
This is a spirited, hard-working production of an extremely complicated piece of theatre and while on the whole it succeeds in entertaining, it could do with a significant injection of picking up cues and not lingering over lines to take it from reliable goods train to overnight flyer.
Visit talismantheatre.co.uk for details and tickets. The production runs until Saturday (September 3).