JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE LADYKILLERS at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, for The Scotsman 3.11.14.
3 stars ***
PITLOCHRY FESTIVAL THEATRE was a well-deserved winner in last week’s new three-year funding announcement from Creative Scotland; and it’s a real pleasure to see the theatre in the hills continuing its recent initiative of extending its season with a one-off show autumn show.
Graham Linehan’s stage version of the great 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers is also an excellent choice for Pitlochry, a wicked, black-as-ink heist comedy set in the dear, dead 1950’s Britain that audiences love to see re-created on stage; and its location – in a tiny, unstable Victorian house behind King’s Cross, inhabited by a little old lady who was young in Edwardian times – requires the kind of clever, complex, constantly revolving set in which Pitlochry excels.
Despite a superb performance from Ken Harrison’s set, though – all creaking interiors and perilous railway-siding exteriors, gorgeously lit by Mark Doubleday – it has to be said that at the performance I saw, Richard Baron’s company seemed to be struggling to find the tone of dark hilarity that’s necessary to bring this knowing post-war comedy to life. The physical business of comedy is a fine thing, but it should arise naturally from the script, rather than being grafted on with a visible effort that actually disrupts the rhythm of the play, and tends to stifle laughter at birth. Still, there’s plenty to relish in Sally Grace’s delightful, restrained performance as Mrs. Wilberforce, the dear old lady whose house is taken over by an ill-assorted gang of postwar misfits bent on train robbery; and the sheer pleasure of watching the set go through its spectacular paces is probably worth the ticket-price in itself.