The long-awaited new production of Ealing comedy The Ladykillers is finally open for business, with a celebratory press night taking place last night that showed how the production had brought out the best in all involved. It’s not as if the crew at the Playhouse ever really need an injection of enthusiasm and inspiration, but atmosphere surrounding The Ladykillers has been electric and seems to have really raised the bar.
With good cause — the run is already a sell-out and has been for some time. The pedigree of Father Ted writer Graham Linehan, director Sean Foley and a cast including Peter Capaldi (of Malcolm “come the f**k in or f**k the f**k off” Tucker fame) rightly proved irresistible and is another wonderful cultural coup for Liverpool.
Expectations were rightly high and, unsurprisingly, lived up to. Of course The Ladykillers is good. It was always going to be.
But it was the enchanting, wonderful set designed by Michael Taylor that truly stole the show. Bursting with imagination and charm, the crooked house revealed stagecraft so delightful you could weep. It is, it turns out, entirely possible for simply the set of a play to bring a tear of joy to the eye. Who knew?
Keeping all the action in the house, The Ladykillers tells the story of a lonely little old lady duped into renting a room to the leader of a criminal gang, who proceeds to plot an elaborate heist while pretending they are a band of musicians. Hilarity ensues.
Marcia Warren was perfectly cast as Mrs Wilberforce, cute as a button and pure as the driven snow. Ben Miller, as Louis Harvey, did an impressive job getting the best out of his comically psychopathic character without going over the top (sexy Eastern European accent, too). Peter Capaldi, while sleeker and brighter than his grisly and world-weary Malcolm Tucker, somehow managed to out-ham his Thick of It best. James Fleet, best known for sheepish, bumbling comedy roles in Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Vicar of Dibley was not cast too far from type as the Major. Clive Rowe as One Round showed incredible versatility and grace making his understated role as the simpleton of the gang look deceptively easy.
The Ladykillers is a must-see, that much is true. It has the credentials, the imagination, and the ability to shine for a very long time. But there was still a sense that things could still be done to tighten and sharpen it up at this stage, and that is something that will surely come together in the coming weeks.
The first half was beautifully paced, bold, extremely funny and full of beautiful theatrical surprises. The momentum in the second half wasn’t quite as crisp, and there were some quite busy parts, where two separate comic turns were occurring simultaneously, that although an interesting device in theory didn’t quite seem clear enough to work. Yet.
As the cast gel and Graham Linehan’s script really becomes second nature to the actors, there’s little doubt these things will be ironed out and The Ladykillers will take Liverpool and London by storm. A sure-fire hit, as they say, there’s something genuinely magical about this production that will stay with the audience for a long time to come.