Alnwick Theatre Club pulls off 'joyous' production of classic play The Ladykillers

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Alnwick Theatre Club performed The Ladykillers, based on the Ealing film comedy, at the Playhouse.

This updated play version written by Graham Linehan tells the story of an elderly widow, Mrs Wilberforce living in an eccentric house in Kings Cross who unwittingly lets out a room to a hapless band of criminals posing as a musical ensemble with a penchant for Boccherini.

They spend their time planning a heist, in which Mrs Wilberforce is innocently embroiled. When she discovers what is really going on the gang make plans to ‘despatch’ her with comic but disastrous results for the criminals.

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It’s a risk to stage a production of a much loved film but overall, the Alnwick Theatre Club manages to pull it off, with comedic highs peppered throughout the play.

Alnwick Theatre Club performing The Ladykillers.Alnwick Theatre Club performing The Ladykillers.
Alnwick Theatre Club performing The Ladykillers.

The set was thoughtfully and playfully created; a quirky, cobbled-together house across two floors with the upstairs bedroom overlooking Kings Cross tunnels.

Inside, the house contained suitably old fashioned pictures (comically tilted at odd angles), comfy armchairs, built-in cupboards and beautiful china tea-cups.

It cleverly took both the audience and characters from the sitting-room to the bedroom and onto the railway line below.

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It is the source of much fun in the show, getting laughs right from the start and throughout plaudits go to stage manager, Virginia Mayes Wright, and the stage crew, for creating such an ingenious playground for the cast to act on.

Some of the Alnwick Theatre Club cast members.Some of the Alnwick Theatre Club cast members.
Some of the Alnwick Theatre Club cast members.

This was only enhanced by the lighting and sound by Andy Hunt, Andrew Mounsey and Gary Brown. Not an easy job by any means, co-ordinating the sound of trains with the demise of the criminals but one that they generally did very successfully.

Hilary Waugh and Karina Biggers prowess in the costume department resulted in a highly finished collection of outfits that defined each character brilliantly.

Honourable mention goes to the scarf Professor Marcus’ (Mark Stenton) wore that was so long that it trailed around the floor - providing comic entertainment when Mrs Wilberforce stepped on it a number of occasions.

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The unkept, scruffy One Round (Matthew Winter) looked just the part in his untucked shirt, incorrectly buttoned-up cardigan and ill-fitting jacket - contrasting nicely with the smartly dressed Harry Robinson (Nick Biggers) and Louis Harvey (Matt Bush).

Major Courtney’s yellow waistcoat was another stand-out, along with the 1950’s dresses the Teaparty Ladies wore for the unforgettable quintet performance.

Peter Biggers’ and Glenda Fricke’s casting and direction was faultless. Between them, they cast a superb ensemble of well-rounded characters with excellent, well-executed comic timing.

Mrs Wilberforce, played by Sheila Graham gave a measured performance of a lonely widow with only an unseen, ailing parrot (ably voiced by Cath Hughes) and her memories for company.

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Mark Stenton turns the professor into a somewhat deluded Moriarty who believes he’s a criminal genius, but hilariously can’t get a cello case out of a window and comes to a sticky end.

Stuart Archer is also very funny as the major, quivering with delight at the sight of Mrs Wiberforce’s purple frock, which he dances animatedly with.

There are also lively contributions from Matt Bush as the word-muddling criminal who announces ‘old ladies give me the penises” and Nick Biggers who gave a confident performance as Harry Robinson with a deep, husky voice that resulted in cascades of laughter.

Matthew Winter’s portrayal of One Round was particularly notable, flitting between clumsy, and impulsive while also showing great tenderness towards Mrs Wilberforce.

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It was brilliant to see new faces on the stage too - Adam Bell made his debut as Constable Macdonald, treading the line perfectly between friendliness and exasperation at Mrs Wilberforce’s frequent reports of occurrences in which she feels he should be taking an interest. He delivered his lines with real panache and provided many comic moments, particularly when carrying the suitcase of money into Mrs Wilberforce’s dilapidated house.

If you are expecting to see a replica of the film, then this production of The Ladykillers is possibly not for you. But what it does have, is bags of personality and farcical slapstick humour. The originality of the staging and talented cast makes for an evening of hilarity - the audience is left defenceless as the laughs come in thick and fast (especially in the second half of the play).

It is a joyous evening at the theatre, one that feels very much needed after all the heaviness of the past couple of years.