BWW Review: THE LADYKILLERS Only Mildly Amuses at Shaw Festival
The Shaw has once again programmed a play known by few. After their success at rediscovering Mae West's SEX this season, I was hoping that THE LADYKILLERS would produce yet another unearthed gem. This comedy, mostly unknown outside of the UK, was briefly revived in the West End in 2011,but it's humor may best be served in a different era.
Based on the very successful 1955 movie screenplay written by William Rose, Graham Linehan has penned this stage version of a daft old widow Mrs. Wilberforce (Chick Reid) well known in the town for her eccentricities, who has a room to rent. Soon enough a mysterious man appears ( Professor Marcus) who takes the room at once to use for rehearsals of his male orchestra. But this orchestra is a actually a band of thieves plotting their next bank heist. How long this motley crew will be able to keep up the ruse and will they pull it off makes up the first act.
Ms. Reid is the dottering Mrs. Wilberforce, and does a fine job anchoring the mayhem, but the jokes are written far too broadly to elicit the laughs that would turn this amusing comedy into a true farce. Her persistence in offering the thieves tea, all in inopportune times, becomes a running joke. There is always humor in repetition, and Damien Atkins as Marcus has the requisite nervous laughs, site gags and idiosyncrasies that could be funny, but they simply aren't funny enough. Mr. Atkins does succeed though in fleshing out a character that is believable in his ability to mastermind his plan.
The rag rag bunch of criminals each are penned with a specific type in mind...Martin Happer succeeds the most as the dim witted "One-Round," who is too simple, or probably just too down right stupid for his own good. His dead pan delivery and spot on timing made him a highlight. Ric Reid is Major Courtney, the sage of the group with military experience, but prone to admire women's clothing a bit too much. Steven Sutcliffe is Louis, the Russian with little patience for this silly venture. Andrew Lawrie is Harry, who shines in his physical comedy, which does elicit some good belly laughs.
When the five men are together for the fake "orchestra rehearsals " playing a record of classical music, there is comedy to be found with Mrs. Wilberorce's constant interruptions. Her desire to know each man's story leads to some clever on the spot silliness and when the group must perform for a group of the old lady's friends or risk being found out, the result is ... well you'll have to wait until Act II to find out.
Designer Judith Bowden has created a perfect rotating two level set for the Wilberforce home, including areas for projections and miniature vehicles that round the set, showing the path of the bank heist with brilliant creativity.
Director Tim Carroll has put his all into making this piece soar, but it may not be possible to achieve greatness due to the creaky script. He paces the play well and there is precision in the slamming of doors and timing of the stage business, but Carroll's fine cast deserved a better vehicle for all of their talents. The plot twists in Act II when Mrs. Wilberforce discovers the group's crime and threatens to turn them in to the officials makes for some whacky doings, but is this farce now to become a black comedy? Is Mrs. Wilberforce really an insane old broad or a wise woman who uses her perceived craziness as a mode to steal all of the cash for herself. There seems to be comedy in the premise, but the end result is more of a silly trifle of a story.