The Ladykillers can be simply described as a night of silly, yet unavoidably entertaining madness. If slapstick fight-scenes and cross-dressing old ladies aren’t for you, then The Ladykillers will probably show you the error of your ways. Although the repetitious gags, obvious punch lines, and continually squawking diseased parrot could get tiresome, it is hard to be overly critical of something which doesn’t even take itself seriously.
The story revolves around Mrs Wilber-Force, a naïve old woman who is reminiscent of every grandma I have ever met. With only the company of General Gordon, her terminally ill parrot, lonely Mrs Wilber-Force allows five musicians into her home to stay in the spare room. Little does she know they are secretly murderous criminals planning their next robbery. When she discovers their crime, one by one the men attempt to kill the innocent old lady.
Based on the motion picture screenplay by William Rose, The Ladykillers had mixed reviews when it first hit the stage, and this is understandable. As a major fan of slapstick theatre, even I found myself occasionally rolling my eyes, wondering how everybody could be finding line after cheap line so hilarious. Michele Dotrice, playing Mrs Wilber-Force, was over the top to the point of pantomime, and at times became a little grating. However, within the context of the show, she raised some of the loudest laughs from the audience.
The beautifully designed lob-sided set, supposed to represent the bomb-struck home of Mrs Wilber-Force, was visually magnificent and fits the mad performance perfectly. The set, combined with some genuinely impressive special effects, added to the surreal nature of performance. In addition, the music, composed by Ben and Max Ringman, was a fitting presence throughout, which helped generate some of the best moments in the show.
Overall, The Ladykillers works. The characters are terribly clichéd, yet brilliantly acted, and I found myself getting swept along laughing with the entire theatre. It is the atmosphere of light-hearted joy throughout that captivates the audience, and it is impossible to keep a straight face as a result. A guaranteed fun yet simple night out.
See ‘The Ladykillers’ at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal until Saturday 3rd November