Is there anything less suspicious than a doddery old lady? It’s an assumption Marcus is literally banking on as he chooses the new headquarters for his next high stakes robbery in the spare room of an unsuspecting accomplice. Irish comedy writer Graham Linehan’s script the Ladykillers plays with misunderstanding and misdirection in an adaptation of the original black comedy crime mashup.
Mrs Wilberforce (Pamela Whalan) has a reputation for being overly careful with her regular reports to police of anti-social and suspicious activity but she could have never predicted that the charming Professor Marcus (Marty O’Neill), looking for a room to rent and in which to also hold his string quartet rehearsals, is planning an elaborate bank robbery with her help. His band of misfits criminals would have nearly gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for Mrs Wilberforce’s meddling ways.
Set designer Grant Fraser reveals more of the landlady’s troubles than she perhaps would herself with shabby paintwork and cracking walls. Of particular annoyance is the flat’s proximity to the train line, meaning every passing train wobbles the building and flickers the lights in a more trying than quirky manner. There’s also the odd pet bird who serves little purpose but makes his presence known. In this eccentric abode Walter Grkovic directs the Ladykillers with a mix of comedy and crime styles including a cozy armchair pacing with injections of physical humour. The major laughs come from the combination of an all-sorts cast, an absurd situation, and the unwavering belief Marcus purports that the plan will come good despite many unexpected hiccups.
O’Neill is a controlled and commanding leader of his criminal crew and he manages to balance his dastardliness against a grandfatherly charm which makes him likeable throughout. As for the gang, Doug Wiseman as the over-medicated young-un and Paul Rye as the group’s stereotypical brawn are stand-outs for their well-contrived physicality and consistent characterisation. Barry Nielsen as a cold-hearted Romanian assassin also received a fair share of audience laughs for his sharp, steely delivery.
Structured largely as the planning stage pre-robbery and then post-robbery when the criminals are found out and attempt to escape Mrs Wilberforce’s conscious, the script is perhaps more drawn out than a typical comedy. Particularly, in the second half which relies heavily on a building tension that doesn’t really pay off, the murder innuendos begin to thin and could use the bolstering of more backstory for this group of thieves. But the rapidly increasing body count certainly keeps the plot tumbling along and the solid performances remain entertaining throughout.
The Ladykillers is running at the Genesian Theatre from January 18th – February 15th