Arts

Review: Graham Linehan's new take on The Ladykillers is totally lol

The all-female-cast production of The Ladykillers, adapted by Graham Linehan, which is at Belfast's Lyric Theatre

The Ladykillers, The Lyric Theatre in Belfast

WATCHING Graham Linehan's superb adaptation of William Rose's 1955 film The Ladykillers last night at the Lyric Theatre, the old question about how screenplays adapt to the stage inevitably surface. In fact, you wondered, why do it at all?

The1955 Ealing movie with Alistair Sim and co after all seemed to do a definitive job of conveying the ethical conundrum in the tale of the violent bank robbers who pose as a string quartet in old Mrs Wilberforce's house. And the Coen Brothers' recent remake added nothing to the original story, apparently communicated in a dream to screenwriter William Rose.

But Linehan has channelled the subterfuge theme of the play and cast women as the originally male criminals.

Nobody is, after all, what they seem in The Ladykillers, apart from the old lady (a very nice turn from Stella McCusker). Then, in a delicious move, Linehan casts the old ladies who gather at Mrs Wilberforce's house (brilliant set by Stuart Marshall, incidentally) for the never possible concert by the 'musicians' as men.

When they appear, gloved and banging on her door, it recalls the famous Father Ted episode where the elderly female fans mob the pop star.

The all-female-cast production of The Ladykillers, adapted by Graham Linehan, which is at Belfast's Lyric Theatre

This play, when it gets into its stride, is, however, totally on song – lol, in fact, in Twitter argot. It did, though, start slowly and the comic timing was initially not great. Brilliant exchanges and lines like the Wildean "I had to subdue him with my umbrella'" didn't quite fizz as they should.

Things improved as soon as the magnificent Jo Donnelly as Major Courtney came on stage. This whiskered character, a con artist with an enthusiasm for cross-dressing (he tells Mrs Wilberforce he loves her wardrobe and in another context, "we could have been friends"), was a comic joy.

The drama pretty much followed the original story, with Linehan's adjustments, and the physical comedy in this production directed by Jimmy Fay is a delight. The chaps scrambled up and down a lovely set.

As the great plan – amusingly outlined by mannered Professor Marcus – came into being, we got a sense of post-war London, class, Englishness (good accents, cast) and a kind of whimsy.

Then as things generally fell apart, Maria Connolly's edgy Louis, the murderer who couldn't bear to be reminded of his hirsute mummy, was outstanding.

This play has it all, including a soap star in the cast, Cheryl Fergison formerly Heather Trott from EastEnders. She died extremely well.

For the rest, we learnt just why this tasty band of robbers couldn't quite kill the little old lady who inadvertently exposes their dastardly plot. It's the little bit of good in all of us, as the play reveals, that leads to their hilarious downfall.

I shan't quickly forget, nor will the rest of the audience, the Major's enthusiasm for Mrs W's beautiful pink tea dress. The steam train soundtrack was sublime, and Nuala McKeever as the constable who doesn't quite solve everything in the final scene, spot on.

Until July 8 at lyrictheatre.co.uk and box office 028 9038 1081

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