A comedy of errors

The Ladykillers, Theatre by the Lake

Take one of the most popular of the Ealing comedies, throw in a new script from a leading creator of modern humour, and you have a show that will satisfy multi-generations of theatre-goers in Keswick this summer.

The Ladykillers was a film made in 1955 and starring Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness. It’s a comedy of errors; a group of bungling burglars is outwitted by a sweet old lady, and each one of them meets their doom along the way.

It’s this darker side of the story that must have appealed to Graham Linehan, one of the creators of Father Ted and Black Books, who has provided this stage version, directed by Chris Honer and set here in Keswick almost entirely in the home of Mrs Wilberforce (Rachel Laurence) and her parrot, General Gordon (who adds to the script from under his cage cover).

Mrs W is the only woman on stage, apart from the cameo appearances of her afternoon-tea friends who turn up to listen to the avant-garde performance of the burglars pretending to be a string quartet. (It’s really not confusing, honestly.)

The bumbling burglars are led by Dominic Gately as Professor Marcus, complete with ultra-long Dr Who-style scarf (who is the last to die, rather macarbrely on a railway line – the only non-domestic scene). In his gang is an army major with a penchant for women’s dresses (Patrick Driver), two stereotypical spiv-crooks, Harry and Louis (Luke Murphy and Devesh Kishore) and the bumbling “Mr Lawson” (Eric Potts) known as One-Round from his days as a crooked boxer. Also in the cast is Chris Porter as the patient but disbelieving policeman, who appears in the tea-party scene as a moustached old lady (think Emily in Little Britain).

In fact there’s a number of humour derivatives, intentional or otherwise. One-Round talks in the manner of Monty Python’s Mr Gumby, for example. And there’s a delightful period-charm set (complete with crooked pictures on the walls and….well, see what else you can spot) which will meet the approval of those in the audience of a certain age.

But there’s also some clever modern lighting and sound tricks. It’s witty, silly and occasionally surreal humour, and if the pace is occasionally not as sharp as it ought to be, it’s clear that this production is going to cheer audiences throughout the season.

The Ladykillers plays until November 2. For dates and tickets see https://www.theatrebythelake.com/production/18170/The-Ladykillers

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