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Ben MillerThe Ladykillers

Liverpool Playhouse Theatre
November 3 – November 19 2011

Author: William Rose (Adapted by Graham Linehan)
Director: Sean Foley
Everyman Liverpool Playhouse official websiteProducer: Everyman Playhouse, Fiery Angel
Cast Includes: Peter Capaldi, Marcia Warren,James Fleet, Ben Miller, Clive Rowe, Stephen Wight, Harry Peacock, Beverly Walding.

Running Time: 2 hrs 30 mins

It’s rare indeed that a play sells out within days of going on sale, yet that is exactly what happened with Graham Linehan’s adaptation of the classic Ealing comedy-crime caper, The Ladykillers, partly because of the writer and director’s formidable reputation (Linehan scripted Father Ted, whereas Sean Foley created The Play What I Wrote), but also because of the stellar cast.

Yet the 1955 version starring Alec Guinness as the master criminal who intends to hold a heist and get a little old woman to carry the loot back to their boarding house, is the yardstick by which the play will be judged – rightly or wrongly – and on the whole, the cast and crew do a pretty admirable job.

The action, particularly in the first half, is slick and brilliantly orchestrated with Capaldi’s Professor Marcus being quite brilliantly portrayed as an eccentric genius against the mousey Mrs. Wilberforce, whose stern moral fortitude is cleverly underscored by the superb Marcia Warren.

Indeed, the entire cast are excellent. James Fleet as the cowardly conman / war hero, Major Courtney, does what he does extremely well … that is playing to the limit the “nice-but-dim” character to the hilt, whereas Ben Miller’s Louis Harvey is steeped in menace and not a little stupidity, which gives his character a darker edge than might otherwise be expected.

Yet it is Stephen Wight, playing young hood, Harry Robinson, and Clive Rowe as the gentle giant One-Round who truly stand out, with Wight all drug induced energy superbly offsetting Rowe’s pondering insecurities.

There is also one other cast member that deserves praise and that is the silent character that is a truly stunning set, which revolves to reveal interior shots and exterior angles magnificently and so provides a truly awe inspiring sense of place throughout the proceedings.

So, with all this going for it, why then does it feel something like having dined on a banquet of candyfloss? The first half, with its tricks and bangs and flashes – particularly at the point of an improvised cops-‘n’- robbers car chase that has to be seen to be truly appreciated – races by, whereas Act II is a lot more ponderous, a lot muddier and, quite frankly, seemingly a lot longer than it actually is as the play becomes ever darker, despite the liberal sprinkling of comic incident so that, as a result, a lot of the pace dissolves into the steam engine induced smog and once gone is hard to recover.

The Ladykillers is fun, the acting is superb, the set is sublime and Sean Foley’s direction is magnificent. It’s just a pity that the story that is clearly aching to come out hasn’t really been allowed to shine as brightly as might be hoped.

A valiant effort, perhaps, but the yardstick of Ealing remains something to beat.
Chris High

Images © Manuel Harlan 2011

The Ladykillers Peter Capaldi, Ben Miller, Beverley Walding & Clive Rowe The Ladykillers

Everyman Liverpool Playhouse official website



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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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