The Lavender Hill Mob, Bath Theatre Royal and touring

THE current touring production of Phil Porter’s adaptation of The Lavender Hill Mob started its national progress last October and ends next weekend in Cornwall.

Directed by Jeremy Sams, it stars Miles Jupp and Justin Edwards with a further six multi-role-playing actors to bring to life this stage version of the classic 1951 Ealing comedy, voted 17th in the “greatest ever films” list.

It looked very promising, so early reviews assuring readers that the production would tighten up as the run continued, must have been reassuring. Sadly, many weeks on, it has not happened. The audience at Bath, most of whom I guess are keen Jupp fans, seemed delighted by the show, but it could have been so much better.

It was full of action, but inexplicably short of energy. Was it the adapation, not from a book but from a beloved film script? Was it the direction, from the usually dependable hands of the polymath Sams? Or the set? Or the performances? This is the bit where the experienced critic is supposed to have the answers, and the “citizen journalist” will rush to the defence of their on-stage favourites.

Set on New Year’s Eve 1950 in Rio de Janeiro, it’s the moment where the hero, Henry “Dutch” Holland, is finally apprehended by Scotland Yard detective Farrow, but not before he gets the chance to re-enact the oft-told story of his robbery from his employers The Bank of England and his escape to South America to his many new, and adoring friends.

It’s all done against a stylish set which incorporates all the props he needs in the telling, including a two-part Eiffel Tower.

His ex-pat and local chums play all the roles needed to people the story of nonentity Holland, overlooked by his boss (an incisive John Dougall), ignored by his colleagues, and his meeting with Pendlebury (effectively played by “Ambassador” Justin Edwards). Quite why the owner of a successful foundry and amateur painter would end up in a lonely rooming house isn’t explained, but once he and Dutch meet, a plan is hatched, two criminals are recruited (amusingly role-played by Tessa Churchard and Victoria Blunt as Rio socialites) and the game is on. Holland’s obsession with the streets of London allows daring escapes, and his immediate return to work deflects suspicion.

It is a very funny story, and just the sort of classic film which has been successfully translated to brilliant stagings in recent years.

But it doesn’t work. Miles Jupp plays Miles Jupp playing all the many roles for which he is known on television and film – a likeable, bumbling man who always gets things a bit wrong.

The essential rule of this sort of show is to play it for real, and somehow the edge is lost in what is sometimes a mumbling delivery. But that said, it has obviously pleased audiences around the country. So who am I to say?


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