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The Ladykillers by Graham Linehan

Date

18th May 2019

Society

Peaslake Players

Venue

Peaslake Village Hall

Type of Production

Play

Director

Kim Ferguson

Report

Author: Pauline Surrey

Adapted cleverly by Graham Linehan from the 1955 film, this brilliant comedy tells of a gang of robbers who descend upon a sweet old lady to plan their dastardly deed and hide away.

Peaslake Village Hall is unusual in that its stage is on the long side of the hall, the auditorium is thus wide and shallow. The stage is quite small, but what the Peaslake Players can achieve with it nevertheless is astonishing!

The poster/programme design was excellent, very eyecatching indeed, and must have helped to fill the house (on the day we attended certainly). An interesting Director’s Note told us of the challenges faced and the fun had. An excellent sepia photo, one of a series taken at Alresford station on the Watercress Line, really set the scene. Jolly cast photos were there (though I missed one for the Director), plus a well-designed two page spread detailing future productions. A good read.

If there were a NODA Accolade for Best Set, this would surely have won it. I was fascinated throughout by the set and the props and kept noticing new little details. We learnt in the Director’s Note that the play was written for a revolving stage, and the dilemma here was how to accommodate 2 floors, a railway line, a van heist and a train tunnel on a smallish village hall stage. Well, they did it, and much more besides! Mrs Wilberforce’s downstairs was a real 1950s treat, chain curtain to the kitchen, stained glass front door, great kitchen cupboard, mantelpiece a kind of shrine to her dead husband, complete with his ashes in an urn. We even had his uniform jacket hanging in the cupboard under the stairs! Such a lot of effort went into the creation of this set, and I’d like to congratulate all those involved, it was a delight! Props of course were some beautiful violins and a cello, a nasty-looking knife, lovely china teacups on an elegant tray, and a very large cage for the very vocal parrot. Oh, and a very very very long grey knitted scarf, sported by the Professor, that had an important role to play.

All kinds of sound and lighting effects were needed, as trains thundered past, entered the tunnel, and so on. Different areas of the stage had to be illuminated, whilst others were in darkness. All was brilliantly executed, and greatly added to the atmosphere.

The 5 very different crooks were helped in their characterisation by their costumes. The eccentric professor with his overlong woolly scarf and cardigan; Louis, the hood, in black shirt/white tie; Major Courtney in bowler hat or country tweed; One-Round, the ‘henchman’, a bit of a slob, in very casual gear or ill-fitting suit; Harry in natty trilby, quite smart. But the costumes, makeup and hair of Mrs Wilberforce told a story all its own! Those born before 1960 will have known many Mrs Wilberforces – the widowed or spinster great-aunts who slipped you a sixpence, all hairnets, lisle stockings, tweed skirts and cardigans, or pretty tea-dresses and flowery hats with veils. Our Mrs Wilberforce epitomised this lost breed, and made one realise they are sorely missed! Brilliant work to create the look of this character!

Indeed, characterisation here was paramount. All 7 performers mastered this so well, from our nice but dim, kindly but sceptical policeman, who listened to Mrs Wilberforce’s ‘observed through the net curtains’ worries, right through to the magnificent Mrs W herself, who couldn’t have been more like my Great Aunt Daisy!

The Professor, the master planner, the brains behind the raid, was finely played by Peter HIlton, with great body language, as he charmed and reassured Mrs Wilberforce, and wheedled his way skilfully, to a degree(!) round all kinds of tricky moments. Though events overtook even him, quick thinker though he was.

Bumbly Major Courtney (Andrew Cross), trying to keep up as the plot twisted ever faster, (and mesmerised by Mrs Wilberforce’s pretty tea dress!); Harry (Lee Jackson), the smart youngster in the team, slightly more sensible than most of the crew.  Louis, the knife wielding gangster, who had obviously watched too many Edward G. Robinson movies, was played with great menace by Nick  Boisseau. One-Round, the heavy, (Mike Sutton), as thick as two short planks, was a liability rather than an asset to the poor Professor, and never had a clue what he was supposed to be doing. What a motley crew of great characters! Organising a bank raid with this lot was like herding cats. And of course this was the source of amazing amounts of hilarity.

But Mrs Wilberforce! Tricia Monk was absolutely superb, and developed this character to perfection. Her 3 behatted and fur clad ladyfriends played their more or less silent roles so well too, while she expressed so much as she hung her head in shame. She was such a rounded character.

They don’t write them like this any more! Peaslake Players wowed their audience with this super performance of this wonderfully funny piece. Great direction by Kim Ferguson, which brought out so many nuances and comedic moments that could easily have been overlooked, and mastered the limits of the space available. Oh, and of course, the parrot, or was he a cockatoo? He was great too!

A pity I can’t see this all over again!