Sean Foley’s acclaimed production of The Ladykillers is about as good at getaways as the motley crew at its centre. Graham Linehan’s inventive adaptation managed to stay away for only 15 months before the riotous Ealing comedy found itself back at the Vaudeville theatre for another West End run.
This time the robbery-related ruckus is led by John Gordon Sinclair, who takes the reins from Peter Capaldi as Professor Marcus. Playing the brains behind the operation, Sinclair’s quick-thinking keeps the show on track when certain parts of Michael Taylor’s ingeniously designed set – on press night, a temperamental blackboard – try to take centre stage.
His accomplices each bring their unique brand of humour to the tale about a group of eccentric criminals who pose as a string quartet and take up residence in the house of a little old lady in order to plan their heist on a security van in King’s Cross.
Ralf Little’s Harry twitches convincingly as the relentless pill-popper whose addiction brings with it an untameable propensity for cleaning, Con O’Neill’s Louis raises laughs as the panicked Romanian with an inability to grasp idioms, Simon Day oozes hilarity as the Major hiding a penchant for ladies’ clothes and Chris McCalphy is the comic equivalent of John Steinbeck’s violent Lennie as dim ex-boxer One-Round, who thinks a cello is played like a violin.
Their final accomplice, the unknowing Mrs Wilberforce, is bestowed with a suitably frail and fretful demeanour by Angela Thorne, but later proves that she isn’t just a tea-making landlady, standing up to her hoodlum house guests in a manner that is less Mrs Wilberforce and more Mrs Won’t-be-forced.
Taylor’s lopsided set once again shines as one of the production’s most striking features. To say – as its owner does – that the house has its idiosyncrasies is an understatement; floors slanted, pictures askew and furniture capable of migrating many metres, the towering structure stretches as far as the ceiling with its hotchpotch of doors, windows and staircases.
However, it is of course the show’s comedy – a potent mix of slapstick, wordplay and unforgettably funny characters – that wins over the audience. That and the stand-out scene in which the phoney musicians try to convince a house full of elderly women that their string-screeching composition is the epitome of avant-garde.