The Ladykillers at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Original screenplay by William Rose
Adapted by Graham Linehan
Production by Everyman Theatre
Director: Marie-Claire Costly
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels, Third Act Critic
Murder and mayhem are the buzzwords for William Rose’s comedy-thriller The Ladykillers. For those fortunate enough to have caught a screening of the Ealing Studios 1954 motion picture, Everyman Theatre’s production of the adaptation by Grahan Linehan will bring back fond memories. Who could forget the iconic performance by theatrical icon Alec Guinness as the crafty (and dotty) Professor Marcus?
Take an eccentric old lady living on her own with her parrot and add a gang of crooks masquerading as musicians who rent a room in which to plan a robbery and the scene is set for a series of mishaps. When the old girl, Mrs Wilberforce, discovers what they are up to there is only one solution – to bump her off before she turns them in. But that is not as simple a matter as it might seem – and neither, as it transpires, is the elderly widow who despite her old fashioned appearance might be more than a match for the bumbling ineptitude of the amateur criminals.
Characterisation and pace play a major part in putting on a play of this genre, where a great script full of humour should raise delicious giggles among the audience from start to finish. On opening night this sadly was not the case. It was not until a second half with increased momentum that the performance really got going and we were given a heartening glimpse of what the cast are capable of achieving. It is reasonable to expect things to improve later in the run, for Everyman Theatre has a good track record – their Oh What A Lovely War last year was tops.
As the “master criminal” Professor, Paul Fanning is believable although relying overmuch on twiddling his overlong scarf. Not quite dotty enough for this critic, although the Prof’s darker side is well presented in Act II. As for the rest of the gang, Steve Smith’s sharp suited Mafia-type Louis is spot-on and Arnold Phillips suitably military as Major Courtney. As Harry, the youngest of the crooks, Sion Owen settles into the role nicely in the second half.
Now we come to Mrs Wilberforce, played by Ruth Rees who admirably displays both the mobility problems of increasing age, limping around the stage as is suitable for one later described as Mrs Lopsided, and the finickiest of advancing age in another era. Nevertheless, Rees’s portrayal is still a tad too lively for the part – a few more wrinkles added in make-up might help. Loved the costume, though, particularly in the tea party scene and the posse of old ladies is fun – Lynn Hoare gets it just right as the gushing Mrs Tromleyton.
Full credit to the set designers for their clever use of every area of the stage and for props for some wonderful touches – wonky picture, grandfather clock et al, not to mention the interesting musical instruments.
Runs until Saturday May 23rd.
Things We Do For Love New Theatre, Cardiff
Writer: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Laurence Boswell
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
A multi-layered romp – in more ways than one – Things We Do For Love was first staged in 1997. The humour, and the dark edge behind it, are still relevant today, as indeed can be said of all of Ayckbourn’s plays. Bedroom farce – yes, and you may choose to take it at its face value. It is, indeed, a bedroom farce par excellence, as one would expect from one of Britain’s master playwrights. But in fact there is much more to it than that – it could in some respects more correctly be classified as a tragic-comedy for that is what it is in the end. For this reason, it is a piece that needs an expert hand on the tiller if it is to succeed. Director Laurence Boswell shows his mettle with this revival by Theatre Royal Bath Productions, a good understanding of Ayckbourn and whence the piece is coming.
On the surface a light, at times raunchy, comedy, and staged on a single set throughout, there is much to laugh at as the characters lurch from one relationship to another in a romantic whirlwind of a plot.. The set, that of a middle floor flat of a converted house owned occupied by the elegant and glacial Barbara, allows the audience to see into both the flat above and the flat below. While Barbara resides in lonely splendour on the middle floor, the upstairs apartment is the perfect bolthole for Nikki, Barbara’s old school friend, and her fiancé Hamish, while the downstairs room is occupied by Gilbert, a part-time postman and amateur plumber man who lusts after his ice maiden of a landlady in a somewhat unconventional way. Feelings change and relationships crumble as the plot develops and the characters reveal their true selves.
As Barbara, Claire Price gives us a believable, no nonsense career girl who has no time for men let alone romance and slides seamlessly into portraying the love-stricken, not to mention energetic in the bedroom and elsewhere, and abandoned female which she becomes. This is all due to her falling, big-time, for Hamish notwithstanding the fact that he is engaged to Nikki, avowedly her best friends since their school days. As Hamish, Edward Bennett looks suitably uncomfortable in the immaculate surroundings of Barbara’s flat while managing to project as a sort of male arm candy for whom women (literally) fall.
Making her stage debut, Natalie Imbruglia looks suitably fragile as Nikki, playing her as the stereotypical helpless-little-woman, irritating at times and yet managing to enlist sympathy and help from everyone including downstairs neighbour Gilbert. Simon Gregor shows his expertise in this role, with evident relish and giving it full throttle. The zany Gilbert has his dark side, and Gregor is adept in showing this beneath the banter.
This is classic Ayckbourn, showing us that what we see is not always what we get. Things We Do For Love will strike a chord in many ways. Ayckbourn’s cynical view is that love knows no boundaries and he is, of course, right.
Runs until Saturday May 17th