Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

The Lady Killers

Graham Linehan from the screenplay by William Rose
Oldham Coliseum in association with Harrogate Theatre
Oldham Coliseum
10 June 2016 to 02 July 2016

The original 1955 Ealing film was something of a macabre comedy, but in adapting it for the stage Irish writer Graham Linehan – creator of Father Ted and The IT Crowd – has given it a madcap Marx Brothers overlay, which I’m afraid doesn’t always sit easily enough in this not-quite-there-yet production from the Coliseum.

The basic story follows the film - a criminal gang take over a demure old lady's railwayside house, posing as a group of musicians, as they plan a robbery at nearby King's Cross.

Mastermind Professor Marcus is an extreme eccentric, and his unlikely gang includes a closet transvestite, a young druggie, a central European cutthroat, and a brain-damaged ex-boxer.

I saw the original Liverpool Playhouse/West End staging five years ago, some considerable time after its first night, when it was a well-oiled machine, with all the many sight gags split-second timed and when a much larger budget allowed for more stage trickery – the robbery then was spectacularly performed by miniature cars on a vertical wall, not something the Coliseum has run to here, and while I don’t particularly hanker after it, leaving it out produces a gap in the story, so that one minute the gang are plotting and the next it’s all over.

But the main problem with director Kevin Shaw’s first half is his lack of success in melding his quite decent cast into an ensemble who look as if they know exactly why they are doing what with the physical comedy (and some of the verbals too).

Happily, when the plot starts to thicken in the second half and the body count rises, matters improve quite considerably, and the story carries things along very nicely, without too much larking around, so it is worth hanging on in after your interval beverage.

Chris Hannon’s Professor Marcus was beginning to grate on me far less by the end than at the uncertain beginning and it seems he will carry the evening more successfully as things bed down. But Roberta Kerr’s Mrs Wilberforce, the little old lady inadvertently and unknowingly at the centre of the action, is already a delight, and Foxton's multi-level set of cutaway house with railway behind, and the tricks it gets up to, adds much to the fun.

Reviewer: Alan Hulme


Comment by Diana Stenson

Sweet and honourable Mrs. Wilberforce is portrayed as something of a keen "neighbourhood watcher" regularly reporting spies and no-gooders, but the local bobby, a cosy Simeon Truby, can always put her mind at rest over cups of tea.  Little does he know........but neither does widowed Mrs.Wilberforce whose only companion is the invisible shrieking parakeet, in a shrouded cage, with a programme credit of his own. 

Chris Hannon, the Prof. is heavy on the slapstick but light on masterful menace - essential for the role of a skilful gang leader.  The ample helpings of comedy are neatly executed although the running gag - Mrs.W. repeatedly standing on the Prof's over-long student scarf and strangling the action, becomes irksome.

The set is cleverly constructed to reveal the 2-storey house interior, upstairs gang hide-out and view of the giant working railway signals, lights, engine smoke and loco sound fx - an extra bonus for train enthusiasts.

As Alan says things do hot up in Act 2 as the train robbery looms  but I lost track of the loot when a black trunk suddenly appears upstairs - how did they do it?    Perhaps  I was distracted by the parakeet. 

Comment by Robert Beale

Alan's right about the change of pace from act one to act two, but that is in the structure of the play anyway: there are five villains to be disposed of after the interval. He's also right that if you saw the touring version of the Liverpool Playhouse show, you miss the things they did really well. But for everyone else this serves as a relaxed, slapsticky romp to end the season, and it's all great fun. Perhaps the set is the best performer of the lot ...