Saturday, December 31, 2011

And still they come...

The West End listings are fast resembling IMDB as there are so many film-to-stage versions playing and Owen and I went to see one of the more individual, Graham Linehan's take on the classic Ealing comedy THE LADYKILLERS at the Gielgud.

Constant Reader, it's admissions time - I have not seen the original Alexander Mackendrick film from 1955 which is the play's source. Wiliiam Rose's oddball idea of a little old lady foiling the plans of a gang of criminals who are using her home as cover for a robbery adapts well to a stage treatment with all it's action taking place within Mrs. Wilberforce's Kings Cross house.

The original cast of Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Herbert Lom and Katie Johnson would make anyone think long and hard about recreating them on stage as they were all such memorable performers but here the production is well-served by the casting of Peter Capaldi, James Fleet, Stephen Wight, Clive Rowe, Ben Miller and Marcia Warren.

Capaldi is a sheer delight as Professor Marcus, the criminal mastermind who runs his criminal network under the guise of being a music professor from Mrs. Wilberforce's spare room. With his loping gait, trailing scarf and wheedling voice he has the right mix of inspired lunacy with the undertow of genuine menace. He galvanises the production and keeps up the energy which has a tendency to flag occasionally.

Director Sean Foley also elicits nice performances from James Fleet as a secret cross-dressing ex-major, Stephen Wight as the young wired Harry and Clive Rowe as the punch-drunk ex-boxer One Round. Sadly I was less impressed with Ben Miller as Louis, the lethal crook from Romania. He seemed very muted on stage which I can only suspect is down to his inexperience as a stage actor apart from his Edinburgh stand-up shows. It was a pity as I had been looking forward to seeing him.

The production's secret weapon is the ever-glorious Marcia Warren as Mrs. Wilberforce who more than matches the flashier performances of the criminals. The role could almost have been written for her as it plays to all her onstage strengths - the sweet, daffy and smiling persona that hides a moral core of steel.

Marcia's sneaky stage craft stole the show from her thieves co-stars. It doesn't seem 27 years since I first saw her onstage in her Olivier-award winning role as the impossibly nouveau rich Vera in the original production of Ayckbourn's STEPPING OUT.

Michael Taylor's set is also a potential scene stealer - all crooked and wonky angles and playing surfaces which must be a difficult space to act on so well done again to the cast. In a fun little segue, the set rotates to reveal the building's front where the robbery is enacted on the wall with little cars racing all over it.So despite all this why were there times when I was less than gripped and found my attention easily wandered? There seemed at times to be an overly cosy atmosphere which seemed to make the action simply coast along, the scene changes seemed to last forever and despite the play's second half being primarily about the gang's internecine killing spree, there was little genuine menace apart from the final scene between Marcus and Louis played in the gloomy darkness of James Farncombe's inventive lighting design.

The production was rapturously received by my fellow audience members so go figure, maybe it was me.

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