All filler and no killer for Sean Foley's revival production.
The Ladykillers was one of the most talked about plays of 2011 when it ran for a critically acclaimed limited season at the Gielgud Theatre. Now the “classic Ealing Comedy” is back in the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre and, unlike a fine wine, doesn’t seem to have matured with age. Perhaps it’s the curse of the Vaudeville, but something seems to be missing from the comeback show.
The show has been entirely recast since its first West End venture, which I think was definitely a mistake. The new line up include Simon Day, Raf Little, Chris McCalphy, Con O’Neill and John Gordon Sinclair, who in their own right have proven to be great and comedic actors, but in this production fail to find a unity and essential onstage chemistry. Angela Thorne was a sweet, lovely and adorably confused Mrs Wilberforce. She played the role like a cup of tea with two sugars, but lacked the deadly dash of arsenic that has previously made the role great.
Don’t get me wrong, the show was entertaining enough, but not the laugh riot it is made out to be. There were a few great moments of comedy, for instance when the gang are found clumped together in a cupboard when hiding from a policeman. The best part of the show was perhaps the most brief, the concert scene, in which a gaggle of grannies (or some mannies dressed as grannies!) come to Mrs Wilbeforces’s house for a tea time concerto. Sadly the nannas are gone to soon, never to be seen again. However there is no denying that the script drags in the second act and the gangstars deaths are laughable, but not in a good way.
The best part of the show is undoubtedly the collaboration between set designer Michael Taylor and special effects designer Scott Penrose , who together could create their own piece highly watchable theatre for the creepy jiggling chairs alone! I loved the birdcage motif and that the house was as crooked as the crooks in it; if only they had left as lasting an impression as the set did.
The Ladykillers is, for all its flaws, entertaining, just not groundbreaking so. It is certainly worth a watch if you can find a discounted ticket, which I suspect you might.