‘THE LADYKILLERS’ – Licensed to thrill
I love a good comedy, and Apollo Players production of Graham Linehan’s hilarious comedy, ‘The Ladykillers’, at the Apollo Theatre, Newport, was outstandingly good. Director Di Evans and her excellent cast are to be congratulated on a first-rate production that kept the audience laughing throughout.
Written by comedy writer Graham Linehan ‘The Ladykillers’ was based on the Ealing Comedy film of the same name. The action is set in the home of Mrs Wilberforce, an elderly widow who regularly reports suspicious behaviour to the police. She rents out a room to Professor Marcus unaware that his musician visitors are actually thieves planning a big robbery. This crime caper had all the elements of a good comedy, with plenty of physical and visual humour. There is no honour among thieves as their hopes of getting the money were dashed they became increasingly scheming, and all too ready to sacrifice everyone else.
Marilyn Ford was superb as the seemingly dotty old lady who, when not pottering about offering them tea or chatting to her diseased cockatoo General Gordon, stood her ground against the gangsters. We got a glimpse into her strength of character at the beginning when she determinedly banged the water pipes to get water for her kettle. Professor Marcus answers her ad for a room to rent and charms her into welcoming his musician friends into her home. A lovely performance from Michael Arnell who kept the pace moving and was quite flamboyant in his early dealings with the old lady, but equally scheming as the play progressed.
Pete Harris was a delight as Harry the pill-popping spiv who was so obsessed with cleanliness he was forever cleaning and polishing Mrs Wilberforce’s furniture. I laughed out loud when he helped himself to her ornaments. Ian Moth did well as bumbling Major Courtney with a predilection for Mrs Wilberforce’s party dress. Dave Newton was menacing as Louis Harvey, a Hungarian who was more than happy to threaten Harry with a knife but refused to kill Mrs Wilberforce. His phobia of old ladies was hysterically clear to see when cornered by a bevvy of old ladies who had turned up for the concert. The final member of this disparate gang was One-Round, a punch drunk slow-witted ex-boxer. Paul Gwinnett portrayed the character superbly, his mannerisms, facial expressions, physical demeanour and comic timing were excellent. A sentimental soul, he endeared himself to the audience, especially when he refused to kill Mrs Wilberforce.
Nick Turvey played sympathetic police constable Macdonald who visited Mrs Wilberforce on numerous occasions. There was a wonderful moment when he carried the suitcase full of cash into the house for her. Chris Turvey played Mrs Tromleyton, a friend of Mrs Wilberforce who along with others is invited for afternoon tea and to listen to a concert given by the musicians. A lovely cameo role, and I loved her expression as the music wasn’t quite what she was expecting. Apollo Players members played Mrs Wilberforce's friends.
Whilst Act One set the scene in the house Act Two certainly had more pace and action, I particularly liked the musicians hiding in the cupboard under the stairs. The gang members eventually turned on each other in their efforts to keep the money for themselves. With some of the action on the rooftops this became a great way of disposing of bodies onto the railway track beneath. Some of the actors were clinging to the rooftop and must have been exhausted after each performance.
Reminiscent of a run down Victorian house, the split level set was very well designed by Paul Jennings. It provided plenty of acting space for a lot of people doing complex things in a number of different locations, with distinct downstairs living area and the upstairs rooms. The upstairs was raked to make it slope from back to front in order to accommodate the cupboard under the stairs and maintain good sight lines for the audience. A water supply had been plumbed in to the tap so that Mrs Wilberforce filled her kettle with real water each time.
Tristram Stack was responsible for sound and lighting. His precision lighting ensured the audience were always drawn to the centre of the action. Sound played a vital part in this production as sound effects were used to build up the tension at the beginning of the play and the robbery was conveyed by sound effects alone. I could distinctly make out car doors slamming, the noises from a busy London railway station and police whistles.
Costumes and props were in keeping with the period. I love the black and white mug shots in the programme against a bare brick wall, which has the cast holding a prison number.
Directed by Di Evans this production ticked all the boxes – it was well cast, directed and staged. It is testament to the popularity of this play and reputation for good quality drama that the Apollo theatre Players has that the show is a sell out.
Photos by Paul Jennings.
Page 12 of Sardines Magazine Issue 33 has a Top Of The Pops list of most popular plays compiled from returns from Little Theatre Guild (LTG) Theatres (Sept 1st 2015- August 31st 2016). It is interesting to note that ‘The Ladykillers’ headed the list.