The year is 1956. The place, a dilapidated old house on a bridge at the rear of King’s Cross Station. A friendly local bobby is patrolling his beat and he drops in on an elderly widow with regard to a report she has made that a local newsagent is a former high ranking Nazi in disguise. It turns out to be a false alarm but later that day the same old lady is visited by the debonair Professor Marcus who wishes to rent a room in which to stage rehearsals for his string quartet.
Those familiar with the classic Ealing comedy of the same name will be aware by now that we are in Ladykillers territory and the so called musicians are in fact bank robbers planning a cash raid on the station just up the road. You may perhaps be thinking that it’s a brave company that dares to take on one of the best loved comedies in British film history, especially one that boasts classic performances by Alec Guiness, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom, (we’ll pass quietly over the 2004 Coen brothers/Tom Hanks remake) but in their new production the Caxton Players succeed admirably in making the play their own and treating the audience to an evening full of laughter.
This version is not a straight crib from the film but a 2011 West End adaptation by Graham Linehan (of Father Ted fame) which brings back all the much loved characters and gives the company enough laugh lines and set pieces for the whole cast to show off their comedy talents while keeping the pace rattling along.
At the centre of the action are Geraldine Godwin, excellent as Mrs Wilberforce, frequently bewildered but also given to flashes of insight which eventually bring the criminals to informal justice, and Professor Marcus, played with great panache and charm by Byron Young, a very different take on the role from the Alec Guiness benchmark and all the better for that. The whole cast is on fine form, from Steve Skipworth as the scene stealing One Round and George Mansfield’s couture obsessed Major Courtney to Sam Brierley as young gun Harry Robinson and Chris Dempsey as the gerontophobic mafioso Louis Harvey. Rod Chapman’s Constable McDonald, who bookends the piece, is nicely judged and very funny.
Director Rob Till and all the technical team pull out the stops to deal with the challenges of staging a play which necessitates simultaneous action on two floors and features a geoseismic son et lumiere whenever a train passes beneath the house and the result is a triumph. It’s a play with plenty of highlights but the sequence in which the criminals dazzle a group of visiting pensioners with their avant garde playing has the style of a renaissance crowd scene and the humour of the best of Benny Hill.
The Ladykillers is running at the Caxton Theatre from Saturday 3rd to Saturday 10th September andf there are still tickets available through www.caxtontheatre.com or from Cleethorpes Tourist Information Centre on 01472 323111.