THE Street Theatre company celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2016, and the first play of the special year is The Ladykillers.
Graham Linehan has adapted the classic 1955 Ealing comedy film for the stage, and the Strode Theatre based company was lucky to have the vast spaces of a Shepton showground to build the complicated set.
The story is of a heist, carried out by a mismatched group of robbers posing as a string quartet. The conductor, mastermind “Professor” Marcus, takes a room in the home of the widowed Mrs Wilberforce, chiefly for its proximity to Kings Cross Station.
From the rickety room, they plan the robbery with the strains of Boccherini in the background to convince the eccentric widow. And before long not only is she conned into bringing the money home from the heist, but she persuades her local policeman to carry it!
Of course, our conmen don’t know that Mrs Wilberforce has something of a reputation in the neighbourhood for paranoid delusions of Nazis and the like. So PC MacDonald has no problem ignoring her information about the robbers.
Then the incompetent gang decide that the landlady’s life must be extinguished, and each takes it in turn to bump the old dear off. But luck, or wile, are firmly on her side.
This hilarious play, set on two floors of a Victorian house right next to the mainline station, needs not only perfect comic timing from its cast, but a convincing light and sound plot. And here the company excels. Director Peter Wintle also (once again) designed a soundtrack full of trains arriving and departing and the general shaking and creaking they cause the house, and James Linham’s dramatic lighting brought the locomotives almost inside the Strode Theatre.
The gang is made up of an old boxer, a former major, a murderous Romanian, a nervy East Ender and the faux Professor – all challenges for the cast, as is the role of the “lopsided” Mrs Wilberforce.
Olwen Herridge was totally convincing as the arthritic old bird, more concerned that she didn’t cross the boundary of rudeness by not offering tea at the right time.
Dennis Barwell’s would be transvestite Major was a masterpiece of subtle characterisation, beautifully balanced by Bruce Bourquin’s boxer, a punchy old schooler with a heart of gold.
Lewis Elson had the Eastern European accent to perfection, hiding danger in every movement, and Ian Muton-Phillips’s Cockney ‘arry was the epitome of neurosis.
John McGrouther, a stalwart of the company’s comedies, had to fight with the long, L O N G scarf that was introduced into the business, and it elongated the show, too.
It is a hilarious story, beautifully staged at Street, where it runs until Saturday 19th March. Some tickets are still available. The Ladykillers sets a very high standard for the anniversary year, which continues with Much Ado About Nothing in November.