The Lady Killers asa stage play has an impeccable pedigree and is presumably able to attractaudiences to the theatre. And yet it has not been produced in North America.Tim Carroll, the Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival, has put an end to thatomission by bringing the play to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The Lady Killers started in 1955 as a movie from the famedEaling Studios with Alec Guinness and has gained the status of a belovedclassic. It was remade in 2004 into an American version with Tom Hanks and in2011 William Rose’s original screenplay was adapted for the stage by GrahamLinehan and it was a hit in London’s West End.
We have five loony misfits and petty criminals who want to achieve amajor heist. They are led by the genius Professor Marcus (Damien Atkins) whowants to stage the robbery from the sinking house of an old lady, Mrs.Wilberforce (Chick Reid). The colourful five will pretend to be a stringquintet. The other members of the quintet One-Round (Martin Happer) a doltishboxer who used to knock out opponents in the first round but switched to being knockedout himself as quickly and for more money. He plays the cello which he thinksshould go under his chin like a violin.
Major Courtney (Ric Reid) is nothing of the kind but he does have apeculiar attraction to dresses and a propensity to gaseous emissions. Louis(Steven Sutcliffe) is the quintet’s hit man and sadist but even he has hislimits. Harry (Andrew Laurie) snorts drugs and pops pills not quite forheadaches and has a great passion for cleanliness.
With the perfect alibi as musicians, the brilliant, fail-proof plan of“the professor” and a talented crew, success is guaranteed. And indeed theypull it off except for the escape from the wonderful, morally upright and everso-kindly but not stupid at all Mrs. Wilberforce. There is only one way out: killher.
Linehan has done a good adaptation of the movie script and left the restto the director and cast. Tim Carroll has decided to turn the production into afarcical, slapstick comedy. Both those approaches require some tact andrestraint. He has a fine cast but shows little restraint.
Professor Marcus wears a long scarf which drags on the floor. How manytimes can Mrs. Wilberforce step on it and have us find it funny? There is ablackboard in the room that the quintet is renting and it can be rolled around.It is and it hits Harry in the face very hard. You expect sadistic humour likethat in a farce but, again, how many times can you whack the man in the faceand still find it funny?
There are good lines and funny situations. Mrs. Wilberforce has invitedher friends for tea and promised them a concert by the quintet. The poor chapsthat can’t tell which side of the violin is up are forced to perform. Theyscratch and scrape their instruments and claim to have produced “modern music.”
There are good lines about the parakeet General Gordon who is ill andcovered by a towel. Below him is an urn with the ashes of the late Mr. Wilberforce.All done well and producing genuine laughter.
The criminals have great difficulty remembering their assigned aliasesespecially One-Round who has been hit on the head far too many times and when aknife hits his skull it causes no brain damage. There is nothing to damage.
The cast from Chick Reid to all the criminals to the poor ConstableMacdonald (Kristopher Bowman) who has to listen to Mrs. Wilberforce tell himthat the local newsagent is a Nazi, do superb work. The problem is in thedirecting where Carroll goes overboard in the slapstick and farcical elementsof the play.
Set Designer Judith Bowden scores a major success in her design of Mrs.Wilberforce’s house. On a revolving stage, we see a cross section of the houseshowing the rented room on the second floor, and the entrance way and kitchenon the main floor. The stage revolves and we see the front of the house andthen the side. The house plays an important role in the play and the design issimply masterful.
The Ladykillers by Graham Linehan adapted from the screenplay by William Rose continues inrepertory until October 12, 2019 at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake,Ontario. www.shawfest.com.