Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Ladykillers, Latchingdon Arts and Drama Society, The Tractor Shed Theatre, London Hayes Farm, Latchingdon

As genial Joe Gargery writes to Pip in Great Expectations, "What larx" would sum up completely this classic Ealing Comedy of 1955 in my opinion. Originally starring a cast including the sombre Herbert Lom, it took us inside an incompetent criminal gang foiled by a very old but shrewd lady and her parrot.
In this production directed by Carole Hart, General Gordon the obstreperous parrot was never seen but thanks to Jacob Tonbridge made his voice heard on cue, on many occasions.
The set was astonishing as it so often is with LADS. Multilayered and stuffed to the rafters with old bricabrac, it included landlady Mrs Wiberforce's apartment complete with sink, cooker, sofa and entrance door on the ground floor, with stairs leading up to the small but perfectly formed bedsitter including a shower room on the first floor. This is where all the criminal plotting took place under the guise of posing as a rehearsing string quartet with music thanks to a Dansette record player. The set even revolved when someone went out of the window so we could see the roof outside.
This version was created  for the stage by Graham Linehan from the original film script by the very gifted William Rose, whose film successes included the wonderful Genevieve, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner and It's A Mad, Mad World and many others.
The script included some gems from the past which modern, younger audiences would just not understand - "Press Button A" on a public telephone was obligatory once you had been connected which then allowed you to speak.
The action started with the friendly but a bit dim local copper played by David Hudson checking on Joan Cooper's marvellous creation of the landlady. Dignified, beautifully spoken and fiercely sure of herself and what she thought was right.
Into her life came the oligeanaceous "Professor" Marcus with his scarf trailing even further than a Doctor Who. Daniel Tonbridge appeared at ease on stage in this role in which his character was the brains of the outfit and knew exactly the answers their landlady required. Until things began to fall apart that is.
His handpicked gang consisted of some of the London underworld's most prized specimens but action was their forte, rather than thinking. Robin Warnes was ideal as Major Courtney whose stutter didn't help him. He was the victim of the running joke with the portrait on the wall constantly changing position. This was just one of the small visual jokes that enlivened the production.
Harry Robinson the Teddy Boy was a very effective and assured performance from Adam Hart. Keith Spence was the rough, tough One Round Lawson. Whether that was one round of drinks or one round of bullets was left to the imagination.  Alan Elkins's Louis Harvey gave us his mad Romanian accent.
The criminals plan was to steal a large sum of money and drop it out of the bedsit window onto a goods train going North situated as the house was over the mainline railway out of London. Into their plotting came a visit from Gill Bridle's Mrs Tromleyton and her troupe of Friends costumed eccentrically by Cath Lang and Judy Embling. Played with gusto by Cathy Hallam, Mandi Tickner, Angela Gardner, Sharon Lindsell, and Chris Bird.
All in all it was a well thought out production with excellent picking up of sound cues, even train smoke coming through the window. Period detail was spot on which was an added delight. The sheer idiocy of the plot included the line "being fooled by art is one of the pleasures of the middle classes" after the quartet conducted by the Professor had entertained the visiting ladies.
Although it could have done with more pace and plenty more projection for audibility, for me it was an evening of pure nostalgia, glee and giggles.
Mary Redman
April 4 2015

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