‘The Ladykillers’ penned by William Rose, was a hilarious dark comedy with lots of mood and style. Becoming a much-loved story, in 1955 Rose wrote the perfectly crafted Ealing film script that became an Oscar nominee for Best Writing and Best Screenplay; This was amazing, as the film was made by a bunch of pals for virtually nothing. Two-thirds of the cast (most well-known faces) were not even credited, being there simply for the fun.
The Ealing film was a 1956 BAFTA Film Award Winner and Katie Johnson who played the sweet old Mrs. Wilberforce (she was actually only 76 yrs. when the film was made) received Best British Actress.
Please do not mention Tom Hanks in the 2004 film. Why do some companies feel the need to make new versions of treasured classics? ‘Like Get Carter’ and ‘Roman Holiday’?
In 2011, almost 50 years later, comes an entirely reworked adaptation for the stage cleverly written by multi-award-winning Irish television writer, Graham Linehan creator of the hilarious sitcom ‘Father Ted’, co-writer of ‘Black Books’ and proud possessor of 6 BAFTAs, along with an International Emmy for his comedy writing of ‘The IT Crowd’. In 2003, he was named as one of the 50 funniest acts to work in television by The Observer.
This wonderful production by Harbour Theatre Inc can be seen at the Camelot Theatre every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night until the 11th of September at 7.30 pm There are Sunday matinées on the 28th of August and the 4th and 11th of September at 2.00 pm.
The set alone is worth the ticket price.
Scene: 1956, In the back room, built high into the vaulted beams of a church (inspired in the play by the Union Chapel) in Islington’s Upper Street in north London. The film was based in a lopsided house in a cul-de-sac next to Kings Cross Station.
Set design and construction: This must have been a tremendously difficult set to build. With a sitting room to the left of the stage, a backdoor to the side, and a glazed front door with a trellis outside. In the room corner was a plant stand with a parrot’s cage covered by a cloth. Two armchairs and a coffee table. On the walls were beautifully framed old family photos in black, white and sepia, central is a large photo of Mr Wilberforce in his naval uniform. The walls had antique cream and beige wallpaper. The floor had brown linoleum. A grey mantlepiece with a beautiful brass firescreen.
On the other side of the stage, near the apron, was a kitchen complete with waterpipes and a sink. A cupboard, draining board and dish rack. A deep wall cupboard went under the mysterious upstairs room. A central narrow staircase led up to a flat at the top of the house. This was the spare room hired by the men for their string, classical music rehearsals. The walls were patterned with cream wallpaper. The window in the room had a white net curtain. The room was adorned with a couple of armchairs and a stand with a vintage gramophone with a brass horn. The blackboard with the cunning plan stood in the corner. The suitably decorated set oozed quality.
The hard-working construction team were Brian Mahoney, Phil Redding, Rob Tagliaferri, Jo Sterkenburg, Tina Barker, Grace Hitchin, Sofie Lewis, Matt Cuccovia, Shirley Toohey, Julie Mackay, and Jarrod Buttery.
Properties: As the elderly lady had been in the house for about 40 years, the scenery and props had to go back to 1910. The rooms were crammed with numerous objets d’art of the period. A selection of musical instruments set the scene. Even the simple case of money must have taken ages to prepare.
Sound designer and operator, Vanessa Gudgeon and lighting designer and operator Rob Tagliaferri had a very busy playlist, most operated in tandem. Special effects by Duncan Shaw and Vanessa Gudgeon included multiple trains passing the house and the earth-shattering effects they brought upon the building. With superb selection of music from 1955, such as George’s aunt, Rosemary Clooney’s version of ‘This ole House’
Stage manager: Grace Hitchin worked quickly and efficiently – and had a cameo part thrown in. Assistant stage managers were Del Edwards, Andy Markland.
Front of House manager Phil Redding.
Photography: Rob Tagliaferri.
Mrs Wilberforce (Shirley Toohey) is a sweet old dear, who despite living in a particularly rough area of London is really quite naïve. Mrs Wilberforce’s house trembles with the passing goods trains and is beginning to subside. She is becoming forgetful and confused, so enjoys her daily cup of tea and a chat with the amiable and reassuring Constable MacDonald (Andy Markland). Living alone, MacDonald recommends that she take in lodgers for her safety.
The first guest to arrive is the ingratiating Professor Marcus (Alan Kennedy), softly spoken with just a hint of a stammer. Blissfully unaware, she rents out a room in her lopsided house to Marcus, supposedly a professor of music but is actually a delirious criminal who has gathered a gang of rebels who will stop at nothing.
They are to steal a huge amount of money from a train, but how will they get it back to their lodgings unnoticed?
Next to arrive is dapper Major Courtney (Tom Rees), a war hero who has ‘changed’ since he returned home. The Major is quickly followed by loveable Harry Robinson (Peter Neaves). A few minutes later, a goodhearted simpleton, One Round (Andrew O’Donnell) arrives and at once inadvertently causes problems. Finally, a Romanian in a full-length black leather coat, their number one assassin, Louis Harvey (Patrick Ragan) swaggers in.
Impressed by the lodgers’ musical prowess, Mrs Wilberforce invites her closest friend Mrs Tromleyton (Del Edwards) and her two companions (Grace Hitchin and Jo Sterkenburg) around for tea and a private concert. The old lady is becoming a liability to the robber’s plan, what can the gang do?
What will happen to their intended wealth?
Perhaps being quite a young teenager and coupled with the end of rationing when I saw the film, the sensitivity, and the rich characterisation made it one of my favourites. Could this play retain the passion I have for it? Or destroy it in one move? The play is different from the 65-year-old memory, but this exceptional cast’s warmth of acting, the camaraderie of the rogues, the kindness of the old, and the public’s respect for their elders were all in this treasure. Director Jo Sterkenburg has done a magnificent job, first in creating an impressive set, then selecting a delightful and talented cast, a couple of whom were much loved a decade ago, disappeared only to reappear for this comedic delight. This appears to be a simple play to perform, but it belies the complex chemistry required between the very different characters. The soft underplayed dialogue added chill to the real happenings.
A huge amount of effort and planning, but the whole show just worked! The shows are practically sold out already. Get in quickly.