Review: The Ladykillers at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Based on William Rose’s 1955 movie, The Ladykillers was adapted for the stage by Graham Linehan in 2011. A hilariously over the top and extremely British slapstick comedy, the play’s staged with great exuberance at the Gatehouse by the always entertaining Tower Theatre Company.

The story behind The Ladykillers is almost as much fun as the plot itself, which apparently came to screenwriter William Rose in a dream; he woke up in the middle of the night and told his wife, then went back to sleep – while she got up and wrote it all down so that she could remind him in the morning.

Photo credit: David Sprecher

Mrs Wilberforce is a little old lady who lives alone with her ailing parrot, General Gordon. When she rents her upstairs room to what she thinks is a group of classical musicians, little does she know they’re actually robbers planning a heist at Kings Cross. This is quite surprising – partly because Mrs Wilberforce usually sees conspiracy theories everywhere, but also because the eccentric Professor Marcus and his gang are particularly inept criminals. The stage is set for chaos, and this production certainly delivers – even the set seemed to be in on the joke, with Mrs Wilberforce’s front door frequently swinging open of its own accord.

That little issue aside, the set is impressive; stretching the full length of the substantial stage area at the Gatehouse, it allows us to see simultaneously into Mrs Wilberforce’s front room, the upstairs room and even, briefly, on to the roof. Everything in the house is a bit lop-sided (Mrs W unfortunately suffers from subsidence), and its proximity to the nearby railway line presents various comic opportunities in both set design and storyline.

The cast have a lot of fun with their characters, all of whom are entirely ridiculous in their own way. Alison Liney leads the way as the clueless yet indomitable Mrs Wilberforce, while Ed Malcomson channels Basil Fawlty as the artist and criminal “mastermind” Professor Marcus, desperately trying to hold his plan together despite the best efforts of his incompetent colleagues. Dan Usztan’s nice but dim One Round is a delight, and there’s some enjoyable physical comedy from pill-popping Harry, played by Samuel Currie-Smith. Completing the gang of misfits are Alex T Hornby as Louis, a brooding Romanian hitman, and Michael Bettell as nervous wreck (and closet cross-dresser), the Major.

Photo credit: David Sprecher

Like most farces, many of the jokes – and the play’s ending – can be anticipated, but that doesn’t make them any less fun to watch. There are also a few enjoyable digs at artistic pretension and the British obsession with class and social appearances (which landed particularly well with the North London audience). The Ladykillers is perfect light-hearted evening entertainment, with a reminder that there’s a little good in the worst of men – though it may just turn out to be their downfall.

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Interview: Matthew Partridge, Putin Around

Writer and director Matthew Partridge set up Toujours Perdrix in 2014. Having spent the last few years working on adaptations of¬†classic comedies, this week he brings his original play Putin Around to Barons Court Theatre. “Putin Around is a farce about two sisters, Jana and Nadia, who live on their own in an apartment in war-torn Eastern Ukraine,” he explains. “Jana‚Äôs boyfriend Alexander has joined the Russian Army. What‚Äôs more, it turns out that Nadia has been using their flat for a series of internet scams, including a fake mail-order bride agency. Things go from bad to worse when several clients turn up, prompting Alexander to come up with a money-making scheme of his own.”

As the title of the play¬†suggests, it¬†was inspired by¬†current global events. “Having successfully adapted various classic comedies, I‚Äôve always wanted to write my own play,” says Matthew. “The original version of Putin Around was written before the referendum, and immediately after the result I worried that it had been overtaken by events. However, after Trump‚Äôs victory, the controversy over Russian interference and Farage‚Äôs role as the unofficial British ambassador to Trump, I realised that it was more topical than ever. This is a completely revised version that has been updated to reflect present events.¬†If you either like a good farce or appreciate political satire then this is definitely the play for you. It’s also a darkly comic look at a conflict that is still ongoing, even though it has fallen from the headlines.”

By day, Matthew’s a financial journalist for MoneyWeek.¬†“It‚Äôs part of my job to stay on top of current affairs and politics – which helps when you‚Äôre writing satiric comedy. It‚Äôs also a really interesting job that leaves me with time to pursue my dramatic interests in the evenings and weekend.

“I set up Toujours Perdrix in order to produce adaptations of classic plays, a big interest of mine. Toujours Perdrix means ‘always Partridge’, so it fits in with my surname. Our debut was The Washington Ladies¬†– a version of The Learned Ladies –¬†at the Camden Fringe. Our adaptation of A Game of Love and Chance in 2015 was reviewed favourably by the Independent and a version of Goldoni‚Äôs Mirandolina was also a success.”

The play, which opens tomorrow, brings together a cast of six – Kit O’Donnell, Francisca Morai, Amy Balmforth, Andrew Candish, Liza Van der Smissen and Charlotte Nice. “Farce always works best when the cast is relatively small,” says Matthew. “In this case I‚Äôve got a great cast of six excellent actors from a wide range of backgrounds. Although none of us knew each other previously, we‚Äôve really gelled as a team. It‚Äôs been a pleasure working with all of them.”

Catch Putin Around at Barons Court Theatre from 23rd-27th May.

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest at the Orchard Theatre

The Importance of Being Earnest is one of Britain’s best-loved plays, so much so that there are currently two major stage¬†adaptations¬†for us UK theatre lovers to choose from¬†– one in the West End, and a new touring production¬†with¬†an all-star cast that includes¬†Nigel Havers, Martin Jarvis and Si√Ęn Phillips.

Oscar Wilde’s classic farce, set in 1895,¬†pokes fun¬†at the frivolous and hypocritical attitudes of Victorian society, through the story of¬†two young men, Algernon and Jack. Both, in a bid to avoid any serious responsibility, and to continue living the carefree existence to which they’ve become accustomed, have invented fictional alter egos – but when they both fall in love, the friends’ lies begin to catch up with them, with hilarious results.

Nigel Havers in The Importance of Being Earnest
©Tristram Kenton

In a fresh and funny twist, Lucy Bailey’s production frames the play with¬†additional material by Simon Brett, which sees¬†the Bunbury Company of Players, an enthusiastic but disorganised am dram group from the Home Counties, attempt the dress rehearsal of their favourite and much-performed play, The Importance of Being Earnest.¬†It’s a bit like Oscar Wilde meets The Play That Goes Wrong, only with slightly less disastrous consequences; despite a few mishaps and diversions, not to mention more than one spectacular tantrum¬†over cucumber sandwiches, these actors do ultimately¬†manage to pull off a successful, if slightly unconventional, performance.

Funnily enough, my only real complaint about this¬†framing of the¬†story is that there isn’t enough of it;¬†from unpromising beginnings, the Bunbury Players suddenly get rather good, and the second act is played almost entirely straight. It’s still very funny, of course, as the characters’ lies begin to trip them up and mayhem¬†ensues, but that’s what’s supposed to happen – personally,¬†I would have enjoyed¬†a¬†few more moments of unintended chaos.

Christine Kavanagh in The Importance of Being Earnest
©Tristram Kenton

The main joke is the age of the actors, who are, for the most part, far too old to play Wilde’s¬†characters, and yet do it with such enthusiasm and energy that somehow it actually works. Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis in particular make¬†a charmingly mischievous comedy duo¬†as Algy and Jack,¬†and Christine Kavanagh perfectly¬†captures the girlish excitement of teenage Cecily, despite being a good few¬†decades older than her character. Si√Ęn Phillips, meanwhile, brings a little dignity to the proceedings as Lady Bracknell; her character¬†gets all the best lines, and she delivers them with great style.

The dress rehearsal takes place in Bunbury founding member Lavinia’s beautiful¬†home, which, as it turns out, was built in the 1890s when the play was being written. Before the action begins, it would be¬†easy to assume¬†that William Dudley’s¬†magnificent set is that of a straight production – if not for the confusing sight of a laptop¬†glowing cheerfully¬†on the upstairs landing. This, it turns out, is just one of many little¬†modern details, like the drinks cabinet, which contains¬†a TV on which Lavinia’s husband George is dying to watch the cricket.

Sian Phillips in The Importance of Being Earnest
©Tristram Kenton

This new production is a unique and irresistible¬†take on a classic play. The excellent cast not only give great performances, but are also clearly just having a great time – and their¬†enthusiasm is more than a little infectious.¬†I really enjoyed the comic opportunities offered¬†by the inventive am dram twist, and of course we can’t forget the main event, which is Oscar Wilde’s brilliant and very funny script. All in all, The Importance of Being Earnest makes for an evening of fun and laughs, and you can’t ask for more than that.

The Importance of Being Earnest is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford, until 26th September, before continuing its national tour.