6 December 2011

The Lady Killers at the Gielgud

If you know Father Ted, The IT Crowd and the film of The Lady Killers (and most people do) then you will have some idea of what to expect from the stage play. And you'll not be disappointed.

The play is well crafted in every respect and knows how to draw the comedy out of every situation, character, plot twist, object, scene and speech.

I'll try to explain some of that, starting with the easy ones.

The story is not quite the film but it's close enough for you to know what is going to happen. Sort of. It's the familiar story of an old woman up against a group of hardened criminals with only one possible outcome.

There are some nice scenes along the way, starting with the very opening with the old lady in conversation with her local Police Constable regarding her suspicions about her newsagent.

The set is bit of a star. For most of the time it is like looking in to a damaged doll's house with the rooms leaning at odd angles. Of course the main reason for this is to make the main parts of the house visible to us the audience and if the result is quirky and distinctive then that's a nice bonus.

The set twists and rotates occasionally to reveal the outside and the roof when the action moves that way. The depiction of the robbery is pure genius and was one of the very many points that compelled us to laugh out loud.

The heart of the play is the characterisation and the way that this is portrayed in the dialogue and acting.

Peter Capaldi leads the way as the maniacal Professor Marcus, the gang leader. He stalks the stage like a discordant stork with a touch of Dr Who (it's the scarf). He has to think on his feet to keep the truth from the old lady and you can see his brain whirl as he does so. It's all his fault basically.

Ben Miller is fantastic as the Eastern European tough guy who likes to talk with his knife that he brandishes frequently. A favourite moment of mine was his dead-pan delivery when trying to explain what he wants his share of the money for - no spoilers though, you'll have to see it yourself.

We also have James Fleet as the Major with an unnatural interest in dresses, Clive Rowe who has little clue as to what is going on and Stephen Wight as the young career criminal who has more enthusiasm than ability, he's also the butt of a stream of slapstick jokes (like the old waiter in One Man Two Guvnors).

The dialogue is crisp and purposeful delivering its humour with subtlety rather than taking the easy route with obvious punchlines or swearing (other plays take note).

The story and players change pace cutely building tension and humour and then gently releasing them, like in a good song. This is class writing.

The sum of all this craft and cleverness is a play that is seriously funny and with plenty of depth to warrant repeat visits.

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