FourBlokes Theatre Company review: ‘The Ladykillers’ executed its plan perfectly, and slayed the audience!

Nov 26 2016

This probably won’t be a long review, as I’m struggling to find anything to pick at within Fourblokes Theatre Company’s production of ‘The Ladykillers’. It was just that good (or rather, great) all round, and easily one of the most well-rounded triumphs I’ve ever seen grace an amateur stage. The directing was handled adeptly and efficiently. The characters were portrayed marvelously by their respective actors. Each and every single part of the production complemented one another perfectly, leading to a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

There we go. Review over. Cue a five star rating, and a big pat on the back for everyone involved.

But then, that’s no fun at all. And, in fact, I think it would be a massive disservice to those involved in this brilliant production.

From the moment I walked into the auditorium of The Guildhall Theatre again (this time with partner in tow), I was immediately taken aback by the set. What had been a mental asylum just a couple of weeks prior for King Lear was now the entirety of an old lady’s house; including roof, stairs, and an upstairs bedroom. As with most residences of someone of that age, there were no end of nick-nacks and furnishings dotted around, and I had great fun scrutinising every single detail prior to the show. Chris Bancroft (Set Construction Manager) did a brilliant job of tackling this mammoth of a task, and built the foundations for the great show we were about to see.

But, a great set is no good unless you have something to back it up with, and Fourblokes had just that in the form of Barry Taylor (Director)

Barry put his set to work, using every single inch of the stage to craft a picture for the audience. This was one of those shows in which you never knew where to look, because something was always happening. If two characters were having a conversation, you could be sure that another two were sending each other silent signals across the room, whilst one of them was stowing a candlestick away in their pocket. If the gentleman were upstairs in the bedroom having a conversation, the old lady would be in the kitchen, slowly making herself a pot of tea. My eyes flitted around the stage at a frenzied pace, trying to capture every single nuance of this polished production.

Despite the madness, Barry kept a tight hold of the reins, ensuring that the audience never got lost. Use of lighting (handled expertly by Stephen Greatorex), sound (handled with equal expertise by Harry Greatorex), and props drew the attention to where it needed to be at any one moment, actually making the house seem much larger than it was, and making each room see very separate from one another despite their close proximity.

Adding to all of this was the movement onstage. At times, it felt like watching a ballet, as each cast member weaved in between one another. This came to an exhilarating climax during a scene in which an altercation between two of the characters leads to a knife “magically” appearing in someone’s hat. I still have no idea how it was done.

Whilst Barry did an amazing job directing this master class in comedy theatre, his work could have been all for naught, if not backed up by one of the best casts I’ve ever seen. Everybody portrayed their characters perfectly. And I mean perfectly. Every single one of them was responsible for laughing fits from the audience on several occasions, as well as occasionally pulling at the heartstrings during some of the more somber moments.

Sandy Lane was a wonder as Mrs Louisa Wilberforce, the seemingly senile old lady whose house becomes overrun with criminals. She threw every single part of herself into this character, and the result was magnificent. An incredibly refined performance, she was able to accurately capture the very essence of a woman as “ancient” as Mrs Wilberforce, from the voice, to the hunched body and slow steps, right through to the head wobble that a majority of older folk are afflicted with. I did not see a performer under her makeup (which deserves a shout out in itself), and only saw Mrs Wilberforce.

Mik Hovarth (Professor Marcus) brought one of the most diverse characters to life. The professor’s personality ranges from calm and collected through to terrifyingly unhinged, and Mik had no problems slipping into anything needed for the character. Whether he was plotting to kill his fellow conspirators, or trying to convince a group of old ladies that he was, in fact, a musical virtuoso, the professor was marvelous. I have now seen the true face of evil, and he is equally as hilarious as he is horrid.

Next, the utterly bonkers Harry Robinson, played by Ben Sherwin. Harry is one of the criminals taking up residence in Mrs. Wilberforce’s upstairs bedroom, prone to fits of crippling OCD, and equally as prone to throwing a couple of pills (whatever the effect) down his gullet on a regular basis. Ben captured this frantic character brilliantly, and was responsible for a lot of laughs from this reviewer. Just the way he made his way across the stage could illicit a hearty chuckle from even the sternest of men.

Speaking of stern men, we move onto Major Claude Courtney, played by Steve Dunning. Well, not exactly stern, but he does have an air of importance to him. This a character that is larger than life, as they say, and Steve handled it incredibly well. It was probably the most consistent characterisation throughout the entire show, which is saying a lot, and he should be incredibly proud of what he did. I imagine Steve’s portrayal of Major Courtney was the highlight of the show for many of the audience members (including my partner).

My favourite character, however, was ‘One-Round’ (or Mr. Lawson), played by Phil Stanley. Phil was a dominating presence when onstage, both physically and performance wise. As the slightly dim-witted “heavy” with a heart of gold, One-Round was the reason for much hilarity within the show, especially during his many misunderstandings. A man who looked as though he could kill you with one punch, but could just as easily give you one of the most amazing hugs, Phil made me fall in love with this character. I actually found myself welling up a little towards the end of the show when One-Round cottons on to just how bad his cohorts are, before being betrayed by them in a shocking fashion.

The last (but certainly not least) of the con-men is Louis Harvey, played by Adam Guest. His accent had me in stitches. His twisted sense of humour had me in stitches. His irrational fear of old ladies (and the way he reacted upon coming into contact with them) had me in stitches. Despite being one of the more morally reprehensible of the characters, Adam made this character equally evil and hilarious. The vocabulary slip ups were played perfectly, as the Rumanian criminal is a little inept with English idioms, with each being as funny as the last.

Bookending the show (with a brief appearance part the way through), was Phil Simcox as Constable MacDonald. This happy-go-lucky police officer is the thoroughly patient beat cop of Mrs. Wilberforce’s local area, and regularly has to hear her slightly loopy tales of Nazi’s and aliens. Despite having a smaller part in comparison, Phil definitely left his stamp on the show, and it was a pleasure every time he graced the stage.

So, there we have it. No criticisms whatsoever. I literally cannot find a thing to fault in this show. Every aspect was so polished and nuanced in its presentation, that I could have easily have been watching a professional run.

If you don’t get a chance to see it during this run (at The Guildhall Theatre, Derby, until 26th November), then you should most definitely get a ticket for their second outing towards the beginning of next year (The Rose Theatre, Chesterfield, 19th-21st January). I might even see you there, as I’m seriously considering buying another ticket.

Hilarious from start to finish, and one of the most accomplished plays I've seen.

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