JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE LADYKILLERS at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 6.11.12
4 stars ****
FOR THE SECOND WEEK running, at the King’s, we’re being invited to party like it’s 1955; but if last week’s Mousetrap was all classic plot-twists and serious social problems wrapped in the rigid form of a whodunnit, this week’s smart and riotous stage version of The Ladykillers – written by Graham Linehan from the original screenplay by William Rose – offers a hilarious satirical take on a decade whose outward respectability masked huge levels of social displacement and moral chaos, following the huge trauma of the war.
It therefore makes every kind of sense that the play is set in a little Victorian house at the heart of empire – right beside King’s Cross station, in fact – which is nonetheless suffering from subsidence, and is all lop-sided. Here dwells Mrs. Louisa Wilberforce, a 75-year-old representative of all that is innocent, sweet and good in the British way of life; but her squinty little home is soon invaded by a hardened gang of criminals with shady and even – in one case – foreign origins, determined to use it as the base for their latest heist.
In this new version of the play, there’s plenty of self-mocking satire, and more than a touch of campery; some of the language doesn’t quite fit the period. Yet self-conscious trickery apart, this gorgeous-looking show is a terrific demonstration of theatrical craft at its most lighthearted and ingenious. It has a hugely witty exploded-Victorian-gothic set by Michael Taylor, juddering spectacularly as the trains go by. And Sean Foley’s production features a whole chocolate-box of fine comic performances from a truly distinguished cast, led by Michele Dotrice as a gloriously game Mrs. Wilberforce, Paul Bown as the sinister Professor Marcus, and television and radio superstar Clive Mantle as Marcus’s nervy sidekick Major Courtney, whose uncontrollable obsession with Mrs. Wilberforce’s lacy dresses produces some of the biggest laughs of a jolly, irreverent, and perfectly-crafted evening.