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The Ladykillers, Graham Linehan’s adaptation of the classic 1955 film, is a wonderful play. The dialogue is witty, the jokes are clever and there’s a beautiful Britishness to the whole thing that makes one want to go home and eat tea and crumpets afterwards. The basic premise of the play is that the elderly Mrs Wilberforce – essentially the local busybody – takes in five lodgers masquerading as a string quintet; who, unbeknownst to her, are actually planning a massive robbery. Hilarity naturally ensues, especially after Mrs Wilberforce discovers the truth behind her guests.
Lancaster Footlights’ production, then, though not perfect, was a solid effort. The cast are, as a whole, quite good; particularly the four supporting members of the Professor’s gang. Each one brings an element to their characterisation which really helps the audience to differentiate. The most interesting of these to watch was Charlie Pearce as Lou, whose accent and stony glaze rarely faltered throughout the play – aside from a cock-up with a stage knife which it would’ve been very difficult not ignore (that said, she regained her composure much quicker than most people would have).
Lou, in both the film and the original cast of the play is a male character, but I feel the decision to make him female actually adds another level of humour to the play, and Pearce somehow commands the stage despite her small frame. Also hugely entertaining was Harry Langhorn as the lovably dim One-Round; who manages to make the inherent stupidity of the character come across as totally natural. Danny Whitaker’s Major is delightfully pompous and David Lowe’s Harry is just the right combination of twitchiness and lad to make the character work. These four together definitely bring the show up, and it’s a real shame they don’t get more scenes together as a quartet – the scene of them all arriving back after the robbery is one of the best parts of the play.
The main problem with the show is unfortunately the timing. Some parts, especially in the first half, are really slow and a lot of the jokes sadly fall very flat because of this. This is a shame as the script really is sublime and I feel with just slightly more energy from some of the cast, the whole thing could have been a lot snappier and thus a lot funnier. There were also some very long scene changes at points when there really shouldn’t have been.
Despite what is a very slow start, it does pick up as it goes along and the second half is infinitely superior; though it, too, fell victim to timing problems. These, however, lay with sound and lighting cues rather than the actual actors; again, a huge shame as some of the jokes (without spoiling) just didn’t work because of this. Nonetheless, the cast really upped their game after the interval and everything was much quicker, much funnier and much better.
As a whole, this was an entertaining show despite its clunky start. The second half was very enjoyable indeed and towards the end I was laughing at almost every line. With just a slightly pacier first half, this really could be a very good production indeed.