Through October 12
THE LADYKILLERS Festival Theatre/Shaw Festival
The wages of sin center “The Ladykillers.”
That’s Graham Linehan’s stage version of William Rose’s classic Ealing Comedy of the same name, a movie which made Alec Guinness a star.
It’s comedy about a gang of professional thieves who decide to rob an armored car near King’s Cross Station in North London, a seedy, crime-ridden neighborhood still showing the signs of German bombing in these first years after World War II.
Led by Professor Marcus (Damien Atkins), the gang convinces a landlady, Mrs. Wilberforce (Chick Reid), they are professional musicians and need a place to practice and even show up with musical instruments.
It’s a beautifully conceived plan, using Mrs. Wilberforce to be the patsy in making it fall into place.
Director Tim Carroll has a marvelous cast of some of the Shaw Festival’s best on the Festival Theatre stage to encourage the illusion.
Judith Bowden’s revolving set design, Kevin Lamotte’s lighting and Fred Gabrsek’s sound design move the effects beyond the cast because of the house location right next to the tracks into King’s Cross, with its speeding train sound and the lights of signals and trains carrying much of the sense of the story.
Local police think Mrs. Wilberforce is more than a little over the hill and when she realizes her musicians are the thieves and that she has been tricked into picking up the cash and she goes to Constable Macdonald (Kristopher Bowman) he doesn’t believe her.
The story starts in the middle because we don’t know anything about the professor and don’t know much about the thieves, except that they are clearly high-level professionals like “The Great Train Robbers” of a few years later, a gang thrown together for one crime.
Instead, the curtain rises on everything in place for the robbery and all they need to do is put the crime into action.
It works, beautifully.
And, then it all starts falling apart.
The bad guys start fighting among themselves, leading to potentially larger slices for each of the survivors.
It may remind some of New York City’s daring Lufthansa robbery.
Without being too specific about what happens, only one person winds up with the loot.
The script writer spent a lot of time assembling the story and the characters, essential as he speeds up the action to the end.
Director Carroll gets wonderful performances out of everybody, particularly Atkins, Chick Reid, Ric Reid (Major Courtney), Martin Happer (One Round) and Steven Sutcliffe (Louis).
The Brits seem to do these tangled and comic crime stories better than we do, perhaps because for so much of their stage and movie history, it’s less violence than intricate criminal plotting.
At the same time and even with a good script, you need the cast, the direction and the set to assemble the story structure.
For the Shaw, “The Ladykillers” has all three, enough to direct you to the Festival Theatre…soon.
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