Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The Ladykillers brings fifties humour up to date

Who could want to kill a sweet old lady? A criminal gang, that’s who, when

Who could want to kill a sweet old lady? A criminal gang, that’s who, when she rumbles their plans. Will they succeed? This is the premise of

The Ladykillers, re-written for the stage by Graham Linehan, from the ever-popular film version of 1954.

It is no fault of the cast, more of the script, that the production does creak with age. What was funny to a 1950s audience is not going to have a 21st century one rolling in the aisles. For this is what The Ladykillers sets out to do: make you laugh.

And laugh we did, especially at the utterly inept criminal gang. The Henley Players are blessed with a strong selection of men ’of a certain age’, ideal for this play. Ian Beyts (Constable Macdonald) is the perfect Policeman Plod, Frank Augur (Professor Marcus and the brains behind the crime) is excellent. His body language and facial expressions cannot be faulted (get a seat near the front to enjoy all that to the full). The same is true of Tim Green (Major Courtney, the cross-dressing ex-Army Major), Darrel Poulos (One-Round, the ex-boxer suffering from battered brains; or was he always daft? - and Bruce Smith (Louis Harvey), the scary, snidey Romanian spiv gangster. They never let their performances wilt. Louis Harvey also deserves to be praised for the powerful sound and lighting design in a play where trains are so vital to the plot. Jude Mawbey gives a poignant performance as Harry Robinson, the young drug- dependent Teddy Boy caught up with this comic, motley crew.

Margie Barrass (Mrs Wilberforce, the old lady at the centre of the play) comes into her own in Act II and is clearly more comfortable as a strong character taking the reins than as a sweet old lady.

The set was amusingly painted by Steven Allender, but as a whole, the set seems cramped and confusing. Maybe lighting could be used to greater advantage to highlight the different rooms. And it would be funnier if the audience could witness characters falling out of the window onto those passing goods trains â?? but maybe I have a macabre sense of humour.

Full marks to The Old Ladies (Liz McEwen, Nansi Diamond, Marilyn Shah, Wendy Huntley). They give their all to their non-speaking roles and their reactions add hugely to the ear-paining (intentionally so) concert scene. Not an easy thing to achieve and no doubt due in part to the experience, enthusiasm and skill of director, Jill Richardson.

There are some good gags in

The Ladykillers
(listen out for the one about robbing a Bank and running a Bank), some subtle touches (that’s not how you spell Boccerini is it?) and crossed wires, vital to any farce. For farce this is and that’s the way the Henley Players play it.

Performances until Saturday.

Review by Grainne Harling

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