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Review: The Ladykillers at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Masterpiece of underplayed farce surrounding King’s Cross station heist is brought to the stage by Graham Linehan - co-author of Father Ted

14 July, 2017 — By Michael Stewart

The cast of The Ladykillers. PHOTO: DAVID SPRECHER

WHO can forget Ealing Studio’s black comedy The Ladykillers starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers? A masterpiece of underplayed farce and brilliantly eccentric performances. Graham Linehan, co-author of Father Ted, hones in on the farce in his stage adaptation, which is directed by Julian Farrance.

Professor Marcus and his band of classical “musicians” call at the house of sweet little old lady Mrs Wilberforce (Alison Liney), who has a room for hire. But their cellos and violins are merely a subterfuge.

The strains of Boccherini’s String Quartet waft serenely throughout the house, but it turns out to be just a gramophone disc. The band are dangerous criminal misfits intent on robbing the security van at King’s Cross station. The heist succeeds, but Mrs W eventually rumbles them and threatens to call the cops.

What to do with the little old lady? The clue is in the title.

Ed Malcolmson plays Professor Marcus as a manic master of ceremonies, Dan Usztan is One Round, the punch-drunk ex-boxer, played as a child-like simpleton, Michael Bettell’s Major is a mass of nervous tics and grimaces, Samuel Currie-Smith, who plays the cockney spiv Harry, is at his funniest when sounding like Dad’s Army’s Private Pike, and Alex Hornby as Louis the Romanian gangster is the best of the bunch by being grounded and restrained; less is more in this case.

General Gordon, the old lady’s caged parrot, gets his laughs by being the elephant in the room.

The funniest scene of all? The gang have to pretend to be real musicians in front of Mrs W’s guests. The resultant clatter and cacophony is passed off as atonal avant-garde brilliance that the middle-class will lap up.

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