The Ladykillers, Shaftesbury Arts Centre

THE Ladykillers was one of the biggest hits of the Ealing film studios – a classic heist-goes-wrong comedy thriller about a gang of thieves and thugs with a fool-proof plan that has a little old lady-sized hole in the middle.

The 1955 film was successfully adapted for the stage in 2011 by Graham Linehan, and Shaftesbury Arts Centre music and drama group has chosen this play for its autumn production, directed by Bryan Farrell.

Mrs Wilberforce is an elderly widow with a sick cockatoo called General Gordon and a tendency to get the wrong end of the stick and call out the local bobby (very patient Alex Chase) with her hilarious misidentifications – she suspects the local newsagent of being a former member of the Nazi high command when he asks for her address (because she is advertising a room to let!)

Prof Marcus is a music-loving criminal mastermind. He thinks this dotty old lady and her house next to the main railway line to the North will be the perfect place to hole up with his gang of “specialist” crooks.

There is Major Courtney, a neurotic con-man with a taste for pretty frocks (Mark Boyden), clean-freak and mummy’s boy Harry (Thomas Bristow), Romanian psychopath Louis (Scott Henstridge) who fears and hates old women, and One Round (Dave Boyden), the ex-boxer who can break bones like matchsticks but doesn’t like the idea of anyone hurting a little old lady.

The biggest challenge was not finding a good cast – and this is a very good company with everyone playing their character to a T – but fitting a 1950s house with a sitting room, small kitchen, coal-hole, stair-case, upstairs room with a window, doors  off the landing to a bathroom and a bedroom, roof-tops and a railway signal … all on the tiny stage of the Bell Street theatre.

In any production of The Ladykillers the set will always be a major feature. At Shaftesbury, it is almost the star of the show! So huge congratulations to the set designers, Andrew Burton and Bryan Farrell, stage manager Julian Neaser and the construction and backstage crews for their remarkable achievement.

It was great to see the theatre full on the opening night. This is a thoroughly enjoyable production of a very funny play, with excellent performances from the very experienced Jerome Swann as the smooth-talking leader of the gang, and Anthea Smith as the not-so-dotty old lady.


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